Fate of Apollo 13 Crew Might Have Been Much Different Than Originally Thought

When the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft returned to Earth following their aborted moon mission in 1970, no one really knew if the command module would come in at the proper angle to avoid burning up in the atmosphere or even skip off the atmosphere and be bounced out into space. If the CM did skip off, the crew might be destined to spend a fatal eternity out in space. Or would they? Author Andrew Chaikin, who wrote the Apollo chronicle “A Man on the Moon,” asked Analytical Graphics lnc. (AGI) to do a computer simulation of what would have happened, and they found things could have been much different than originally thought. Watch this video, narrated by Chaikin to find out.

April 2010 will be the 40th anniversary of Apollo 13.

Video courtesy of Analytical Graphics, Inc. (www.agi.com).

Source: collectSPACE

8 Replies to “Fate of Apollo 13 Crew Might Have Been Much Different Than Originally Thought”

  1. Most excellent video and explanation. Chilling to know what was a actually stake.

    My question, though, is how close were they to this terrible scenario?

  2. Wow. That was an awesome simulation.

    Of course the crew would have ran out of oxygen and power way before then.

  3. well… the timing of the second Apollo-moon gravity assist depends a lot on how the atmospheric bounce-off happened, which of course we don’t know, since it is a deviation to begin with….

    What is also sure is that a three-body system is usually unstable, and the little guy will most likely either get ejected or crash into one of the big guys…

    Since I’m assuming that during the bounce-off the spacecraft would have lost a significant delta-V (the amount of which would have depended on how off-course they were) then it’s likelier that the end result would be a crash, not an escape.

    Still, neat.

  4. I think one thing that’s not coming across clearly from the naration, at least to me, is the 40K/2500 miles figure. I think that figure refers to the crew not making any course correction. The path they were on when heading to the Moon would slingshot them back towards to Earth,if they did nothing to go into orbit around the Moon. But the course correction they after the slingshot was an adjustment on this return trajectory.

    So this is a simulation of that unadjusted return trajectory. If their correction was off, then they could hit the earth or miss the earth and go off into various different orbits.

  5. Apollo 13 was a near miss, but as more people hurl themselves into space, some unlucky explorer *will* gain the dubious notoriety of being lost to space. It’s an odd thing to consider.

  6. Silver Thread is mostly right.

    The first person to be lost in space will be from a destroyed manned spacecraft or space station in low earth orbit being hit by space junk. The body of the astronaut will orbit with a litany of space junk, unable to be recovered by other craft because of the danger of collision with the pieces.

    Yes grim, but it will be heartbreaking to know their is a dead astronaut above our head but nothing we can do to even comfort his loved ones.

  7. The scenario laid out by HSBC and Silver Thread had been considered for the Hubble servicing mission last year. IIRC, Hubble’s orbit was in an region with a higher risk of collision than, say, the ISS. A catastrophic event with the docked Shuttle would have left the bodies of the crew virtually unretrievable among the orbiting debris field.

  8. I have no doubt it will happen. Also consider the possibility that as space opens up to the general public, there will be some individuals (despite all precautions) who will likely get disconnected from their craft or station and will be irretrievable.

    As I see it, It’s almost a certainty that we’ll have accidents and lose people. Most will probably fall back to Earth from LEO..

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