Houston We’ve Had a Problem – Apollo 13 Encounters April 2010

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It hardly seems possible that 40 years ago the Apollo 13 mission set off on its doomed attempt to land on the moon. It was on April 11th 1970 that Apollo 13 launched with Jim Lovell in command, and Jack Swigert and Fred Haise as command module pilot, and lunar module pilot. Nobody could have foreseen the disastrous turn of events which took place just two days later, when an electrical fault in one of the oxygen tanks caused a rupture which resulted in the loss of electrical power and the failure of both oxygen tanks.

The mission started normally, and I remember that I, like most people, took little notice of the launch - after all, there had already been two successful moon landings and there was no reason to suspect this would be any different. Landing on the moon was almost becoming common place, and it had certainly lost some of its fascination. However, 199, 999 miles above the earth disaster struck. The news that there was a potentially calamitous situation so far up in space drew everybody’s attention, and I well remember watching the television reports of the astronaut’s struggle to survive. It gripped the nation.

The Command Module had to be shut down and abandoned and the crew escaped to the Lunar Module which became their ‘lifeboat’ and their only means of survival. As we saw in that famous film about the Apollo 13 mission, the crew and the numerous ground staff fought to find a solution to the problem which would bring these brave men home. The solutions were ingenious, and made under extreme pressure. The world held their breath as contact was lost during re-entry and for a few moments it was thought the worst had happened. After jettisoning the lunar module, Aquarius, which had been their lifeboat in space, the Command Module, Odyssey, splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. Against all odds the three men survived – had the tank rupture happened after the lunar landing or when the lunar module had been jettisoned the outcome would not have been so good, and the crew would, undoubtedly, have died.

If you happen to be in Orlando in April 2010, then you might get the chance to meet two of the astronauts who flew this mission, as a series of events are taking place at Kennedy Space Center on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 13. On April 10th, lucky visitors will get the chance to meet Jim Lovell and Fred Haise at a special Astronaut Encounter. Sadly the third member of the Apollo 13 crew, Jack Swigert, died in 1982 of bone cancer. These surviving astronauts will recount stories of their space flights, including of course, the Apollo 13 mission. Charlie Duke, the backup lunar module pilot will also be there to sign copies of his book, ‘Moonwalk. ’ Duke flew in the successful Apollo 16 mission and became the 10th man to walk on the moon.

What an amazing experience this will be, as these men will not be around for many more years. Jim Lovell was born in 1928 and is now 82, whilst Haze was born in 1933 and is now 77.

Swigert’s radio transmission ‘Houston we’ve had a problem’ is often misquoted as ’Houston we HAVE a problem. ’ Little did he know how much of a problem they would experience, or that this mission, termed a ‘successful failure’ would end in triumph as these brave men stepped safely from their tiny craft.

The astronaut encounters are included in your regular admission, and if you want to buy tickets then you will get a great deal at www. park-tickets. com. For around £26 you can buy a two day Pass to this amazing attraction.

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