If you’re anything like me, I’d give almost anything to read a great story with a great ending, that doesn’t include politics or Coronavirus. So, let’s take a trip back to 1970. In a couple of weeks, on April 11th, will come the 50th anniversary of one of America’s greatest accomplishments that nearly ended in disaster, Apollo 13.
NASA’s space program was at full speed, and now way ahead of the now defunct Soviet Union. Over five days, 22 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds, the entire civilized world held its collective breath. What was to be the third landing on the moon took a turn for the worse, when an equipment malfunction exploded an oxygen tank in the space capsule, soon after leaving Earth’s atmosphere.
What was to be a routine mission to put Americans on the moon for the third time, although it’s hard to imagine anything routine in accomplishing this task, nearly left three American astronauts stranded, flying through space forever.
NASA, and the Apollo astronauts were like Christopher Columbus discovering America and arriving in a new world. Oh, that’s right, we are now supposed to pretend that Christopher Columbus was one of those toxic masculinity, straight white males. Actually, does anyone really know whether or not Christopher Columbus was a straight white male? Could he have been part of the LGBTQXYZ society in Italy before he left to discover a new world? Maybe that’s why he left, because of ridicule. I think I read somewhere that there may have been a large rainbow painted on the stern of the La Santa Maria.
Okay, that’s enough. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to do this. I regress.
Try to put yourself in that capsule, spiraling through space toward the moon. Soon you realize that a landing on the moon was now impossible, and there was a likely probability that you may not make it home to see your loved ones ever again. That you would simply die, due to a lack of oxygen and be catapulted through space for eternity by earth’s gravitational pull.
As astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert struggled to find a solution to their problem, the situation became even more dire. They had to incorporate the lunar landing craft as a lifeboat, which was still attached to their capsule. In order to have a chance at making it back to earth they had to reserve as much power as possible. All necessities were shut down, including the heaters in the spaceship. The temperature in outer space is -454°F.
The people at mission control in Florida, were working frantically to find a solution to bring the astronauts home. As they got closer to the moon, they were pulled into its gravitational pull. Sadly, the men watched the moon come within 566 miles of them as they shot past at 7,062 feet per second, and sling-shotted back toward Earth. It was two more days without heat and trying to calculate the exact trajectory to enter the Earth’s atmosphere rather than bounce off it.
Mind you, all the computers combined in the spacecraft, which were of the era of 1970, did not equal the power of today’s cell phones. Think about that one for a minute.
Another problem which arose, was that the lunar module was not meant to have three people living inside of it for days. The filters for carbon dioxide were quickly becoming filled beyond capacity. Meaning the three men were beginning to breath a high percentage of carbon dioxide in the capsule. Mission control had to quickly come up with a solution, otherwise it would be certain death before the men even returned to earth. They relayed a procedure up to the three astronauts, who then had to create a new filter inside the lunar module. Once completed, and with great anticipation, they all watched the CO2 meter, praying that their contraption would work, and it did.
Another hurdle to be reached, was to calculate the precise trajectory back into Earth’s atmosphere. The margin of error was literally as thin as a piece of paper. The other concerns which arose, were the questions of, is the heatshield possibly cracked? If so, the three would simply burn up in reentry. Were the parachutes possibly damaged from the earlier explosion? If so, they would hit the ocean at several hundred miles per hour rather than 20mph, causing instant death.
One event which happens to every space vehicle reentering the atmosphere, is a radio blackout which typically lasts about three minutes. Nearly every television set in the world had this highly anticipated event on their screens. Three minutes came and went with no response from the space capsule. Three and half minutes went by, and it was appearing that the capsule may very well have broken apart.
At four minutes, a crackle came through the radio at mission control, and Jim Lovell’s voice was heard. The astronauts splashed down in the South Pacific Ocean, where Americans and the entire world, collectively let out a breath.
Some would say it was a miracle, and some would say it was God’s intervention, it just wasn’t time for them to be taken. Either way, it was a time when we were all simply Americans.
A time when it didn’t matter whether you were a Republican or a Democrat.
The only thing that mattered to everyone, was that these men were coming home alive.
We were all just one.