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Apollo 13 was the third human flight to the Moon, with the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon for exploration purposes and safely returning them to Earth. According to Compton, "the target for the mission was the Fra Mauro Formation, a site of major interest to scientists, specifically a spot just north of the crater Fra Mauro, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) west-southwest of the center of the Moon's near side," but sadly, an explosion in the mission's copilot's copilot's copilot's copilot's copilot's copilot's copilot's copilot's co The mission, officially known as "MLP 3" (Compton), was commanded by James A. Lovell Jr. with command module pilot John L. Swigert Jr. and lunar module pilot Fred W. Haise Jr. and was launched from the Kennedy Space Center at 1913 GMT on April 11, 1970.
The main rocket used to propel the team into space was the Saturn-V AS-508 which carried onboard the Odyssey (CM-109) Block II Command and Service Module and the Aquarius (LM-7) Lunar Module (Compton). Unfortunately for the crew, all the planning and preparation for their flight to the Moon was soon to be interrupted by what would later be determined as a minor malfunction in the command module’s oxygen tank system.
On April 13, per Howell’s narrative, as the ships were passing a point 200,000 miles from Earth, one of the mission controllers noticed a low-pressure warning signal on a hydrogen tank onboard the Odyssey and asked Swigert to “cryo-stir” the tank. The controller in Houston assumed that the problem was that the hydrogen tank needed to be heated and fanned so that the super-cooled liquid would not settle into layers (Howell). Swigert did as he was told flipping the switch that would initiate the procedure and just seconds after the command module (CM) was rocked by what was later found to be an explosion of one of the Odyssey’s oxygen tanks. This incident set into motion a series of events that would see the crew having to abandon the CM for the lunar module (LM) to use as a “lifeboat” until the technicians at NASA could come up with a way to get the crew safely back to Earth.
After the unscheduled transfer from the CM to the LM, the crew ran headlong into another problem. In addition to being cold from having to shut down the cabin heating system to save battery power in the CM for their reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, the oxygen that they were breathing was quickly becoming contaminated with carbon dioxide (CO2) due to overloading of the scrubbers in the LM designed to trap the CO2. The crew had plenty of scrubbers on hand but the systems in the CM and the systems in the LM used different canisters. Compton noted in his narrative "Unfortunately the canisters were not interchangeable between the two systems, so the astronauts were faced with plenty of capacity for removing CO2 but no way of using it" and further noted that "A team in Houston immediately set about improvising a way to use the CM canisters, using materials available in the spacecraft." This problem was solved and the crew eventually returned safely to Earth without further incident on April 17, 1970, cold, tired, and weighing less but thankfully alive.
Compton, W. David. Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions. Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-4214, 1989, pp. 386-93. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/pao/History/apollo/apo13hist.html. Accessed February 16, 2017.
Howell, Elizabeth. “Apollo 13: Facts About NASA's Near-Disaster.” Space.com website. http://www.space.com/17250-apollo-13-facts.html. Accessed February 16, 2017.
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