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The Apollo 13 Mission Safely Returns Back To Earth

Today on April 17, 1970, the crew of the Apollo 13 mission safely returned to Earth after narrowly avoiding disaster – "Houston, we've had a problem."

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission of the United States Apollo Space Program, and the third intended to land on the moon. The spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, six days earlier. James Lovell commanded the mission alongside John "Jack" Swigert (Command of Module Pilot) and Fred Haise (the Lunar Module Pilot). Swigert had actually been the designated backup CM Pilot but was called for service only 48 hours before take-off. Lovell was the most experienced of the astronauts with three missions under his belt and almost 600 flying hours.

Two days into the Apollo 13 mission, Swigert noticed a low-pressure warning signal on one of the primary hydrogen tanks. After flipping a switch to diagnose the problem further, the spacecraft suddenly shuddered and lost all power. A few moments later, warning lights began flickering, and the crew became seriously alarmed. Swigert then famously notified the command center with "Houston, we've had (not have) a problem." They were now more than 200,000 miles from Earth and closing in on the moon. The lunar landing was immediately canceled with the crew shutting off all non-essential systems to conserve power. The flight passed around the far side of the moon before using its thrusters to redirect back toward Earth.

The Apollo 13 mission exposed the crew to several new challenges — most notably due to the sudden drop in cabin temperature. Food became inedible, and water was scarce. As they approached Earth, Jack Swigert couldn't confirm whether or not the heat shields had been damaged during the explosion. Miraculously, the lunar module Aquarius successfully re-entered the atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. After further investigation, NASA discovered that several vital wires had been mistakenly exposed near the oxygen tank, which caused a spark and resulting explosion. The remarkable story of the mission was dramatized in the Hollywood blockbuster Apollo 13 in 1995.


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