50 years ago today, on April 17, 1970, the crew of Apollo 13 came home. Safely. Successfully.
The world breathed a collective sigh of relief as they watched NASA turn a disaster into one of the most dramatic happy-endings ever.
The flight of Apollo 13 was unlike any other Apollo mission,
and the final hours of the flight – preparing for and implementing the reentry
to Earth – was unlike any other, as well.
Continue reading “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13: The Nail-biting Re-entry Sequence”
Following the explosion of an oxygen tank in Apollo 13’s
Service Module on April 13, 1970, approximately 56 hours into the mission, the
situation was bleak. With the Command Module (CM) without any power, the Lunar
Module (LM) was activated as a life boat to sustain the crew. The task ahead –
to save the spacecraft and the crew, and get them home again — would require an
incredible amount of innovation by both the Apollo 13 astronauts and the
engineers back on Earth.
The explosion caused the loss of the main source for oxygen,
water, and most importantly, electrical power for the CM. With only 15 minutes
of power left in the CM, astronaut Jack Swigert powered down the CM while Jim
Lovell and Fred Haise got the LM up and running.
For engineers on the ground, one of the biggest concerns was
maintaining enough electrical power in the LM and then creating enough power in
the CM to power it back up again for reentry to Earth.
Continue reading “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13: Charging the Batteries”
Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third mission to land humans
on the Moon. But on the night of April 13th, 1970, an oxygen tank in Apollo
13’s Service Module exploded. And so began the most perilous but eventually
triumphant situation ever encountered in human spaceflight.
The explosion crippled the Apollo 13 Command Module and
endangered the lives of astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert.
During the four days that followed, thousands of people back on Earth worked
around the clock to ensure the astronauts’ safe return.
Continue reading “Even More Things That Saved Apollo 13, part 1: The Barbecue Roll”
Editor’s note: Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts during a routine test on the launchpad. The test was a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 1 crew — Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The goal was to check out the command module, NASA’s first spacecraft that would take astronauts to the Moon.
Following is an excerpt about the fire from the book “Eight Years to the Moon: The History of the Apollo Missions” by Nancy Atkinson. The book tells the unique personal stories of over 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make the Apollo program possible, and is filled with stories of the dedication and perseverance it took to overcome the challenges, hurdles and conflicts of doing things that had never been done before. It provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the hundreds of thousands of people who made it possible to land humans on the Moon. While many of the stories in the book are fun and heart-warming, this excerpt shares the incredibly heart-breaking event that shocked the country and halted the Apollo program as NASA scrambled to figure out what went wrong.
Continue reading “The Apollo 1 Fire: Excerpt from “Eight Years to the Moon””
It’s July 16th, 1969. The Apollo 11 crew have completed their training, and they’re in the Columbia Command Module atop a Saturn V rocket, to this day the most powerful rocket ever built. At 9:32 EDT the rocket lifts off, delivering the crew into Earth orbit 12 minutes after launch.
Continue reading “Here’s a Deepfake of Nixon Giving a Eulogy for the Apollo 11 Astronauts if Their Mission Failed”
The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was a huge celebration, and Apollo 13 may be an equally big commotion. Apollo 12 is tough sell in the middle. Even the Virginia Air & Space Center, which houses the Apollo 12 capsule, uses photographs of Apollo 11 to advertise. Ouch.
This unique mission and its important contribution to science was no less an accomplishment than its famous predecessor or tragic follower, and it pains many to see them become the “lost” journey between two better-known missions, with no movie to dramatize the details of their voyage.
Continue reading “Apollo 12 Launched 50 Years Ago Today”
During the development of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) by the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (see Part 1 and Part 2 for the complete backstory), an inauspicious event occurred sometime during 1965-1966, while the Gemini missions were going on.
The Gemini program helped NASA get ready for the Apollo Moon landings missions by testing out rendezvous and other critical techniques and technologies. Ten crews flew missions in Earth orbit on the two-person Gemini spacecraft.
Continue reading “The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 3”
In the late 1950’s, before NASA had any intentions of going to the Moon – or needing a computer to get there — the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory had designed and built a small prototype probe they hoped would one day fly to Mars (read the background in part 1 of this story here). This little probe used a small, rudimentary general-purpose computer for navigation, based on the inertial systems for ballistic missiles, submarines, and aircraft the Lab had designed and built for the military since World War II.
Continue reading “The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 2”
Dick Battin stood on his driveway
in the New England frosty pre-dawn back in October 1957, straining his eyes to
see Sputnik fly overhead. It was amazing. Watching that little point of light
scoot silently across the sky made Battin’s heart pound. A human-made hunk of
metal was actually orbiting Earth!
Walking back to his house, Battin’s mind raced. Oh, how he wished he’d never left the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory a year and a half ago. He’d regretted it since the day he decided to move on to what he thought were greener pastures. But now, his regret became a steadfast resolve to somehow get back to the Lab again, because he knew – he was absolutely certain without a doubt – that Doc Draper would be getting his hand in this new venture of space exploration. And Battin wanted in, too.
Continue reading “The Story of the Apollo Guidance Computer, Part 1”
On July 20th, 2019, exactly 50 years will have passed since human beings first set foot on the Moon. To mark this anniversary, NASA will be hosting a number of events and exhibits and people from all around the world will be united in celebration and remembrance. Given that crewed lunar missions are scheduled to take place again soon, this anniversary also serves as a time to reflect on the lessons learned from the last “Moonshot”.
For one, the Moon Landing was the result of years of government-directed research and development that led to what is arguably the greatest achievement in human history. This achievement and the lessons it taught were underscored in a recent essay by two Harvard astrophysicists. In it, they recommend that the federal government continue to provide active leadership in the field of space research and exploration.
Continue reading “Dr. Avi Loeb Thinks the Government Should set its Sights on Big Ideas in Space Exploration”