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Space United States Science

35th Anniversary of Apollo 13 Splashdown 197

orac2 writes "35 years ago today, the crew of the Apollo 13 mission splashed down in the Pacific, after a harrowing four days following an oxygen tank explosion aboard their spacecraft. If you've only seen the Ron Howard movie, IEEE Spectrum has an article about what really went on in mission control to save the crew, with interviews with Gene Kranz, etc,and including a previously unreported hack the lunar module controllers had to come up with in real-time just to turn on the LM."
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35th Anniversary of Apollo 13 Splashdown

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:35PM (#12263518)
    There's no lieing in movies!
    • "There's no lieing in movies!"

      My favorite scene is when Tom Hanks says to the President over the radio to Houston: "I gotta pee", at which point his 55 IQ-lets him open the airlock to step outside. He had that horrid urine problem at least until John Coffee cured it.

  • 404 Page (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:36PM (#12263523)
    Slashdot, we have a problem.
  • by stalefries ( 860068 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:43PM (#12263568) Homepage
    So, will we have to see this article every 5 years now?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:47PM (#12263593)
      So, will we have to see this article every 5 years now?

      Duplicate articles only "every 5 years" would be a great improvement.

    • Re:Anniversaries... (Score:5, Informative)

      by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:51PM (#12263617)
      will we have to see this article every 5 years

      Perhaps, but sadly unlikely because the Apollo mission controllers are beginning to pass away at an increasing rate. At lot of them are still in good health, but Sy Liebergot has a list of deceased controllers in his 2003 autobiography, Apollo EECOM [] that's a page long, and he's said recently that if he released a second edition he'd have to add another bunch of names already: for example, Don Puddy, who played a key role in the post Apollo-10 sim lifeboat procedures team, passed away last November.
    • Re:Anniversaries... (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Do you have any sort of idea just how amazing of a technological feat the apollo missions were?

      Buckminster Fuller commented that we made the same progress in about 20 years technologically that we did in the 2,000 years prior to the mission.
    • by Husgaard ( 858362 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:56PM (#12263978)
      I doubt that we will see another "35th Anniversary of Apollo 13 Splashdown" article in five years.

      But this is Slashdot, and nothing seems to be impossible here ;-)

  • by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:44PM (#12263577) Homepage
    Convert a LEM into a lifeboat, work out the proper equipment sequence to keep the power drain down to a minimum level, determine the correct trajectory with a "computer" roughly as powerful as a modern wristwatch, cobble together some CO2 scrubbers to fit where they weren't supposed to, and save three lives in the process. Tops pretty much anything else I've seen.
    • by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:55PM (#12263642)
      To be strictly accurate, the heavy lifting on the trajectory side was done by a bunch of mainframes on the ground, in Houston's Real Time Computer Complex. But as the article says, they didn't have the software to compute how the trajectory of thecojoined CSM and LM would behave using the LM descent engine, so they had to call in a bunch of people to write new software! Then the burn parameters were passed up to be entered into the computer.
      • Presumably they had to change about two lines in the program; where it had the mass of the vehicle and the thrust of the lunar lander engine, and recompile/reassemble. Then they ran the program. Can't have been much more to it than that, if they got the answer in 2-3 hours...
        • by Anonymous Coward
          I don't know the details but I'd hazard it's little more complex than that: for example determining the center of mass and the turning moment about that center. I doubt it was as simple as "substitute the descent engine for the CSM main engine and change the signs"...
          • I doubt it was as simple as "substitute the descent engine for the CSM main engine and change the signs"...

            Not to mention, we're (probably) not talking a simple "scroll down a bunch of pages and replace appropriate variables." While I'm pretty sure they weren't forced to use punch cards to program the simulation, we're still talking about mid-to-late 60's technology here, even if it was state-of-the-art for its time.

  • by Future Man 3000 ( 706329 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:47PM (#12263592) Homepage
    If you look at all the stuff we were doing in space, including the heroics that successfully brought the Apollo 13 home, isn't it self-evident that was absolutely within our ability to land on the moon forty years ago?

    Now we're looking at Mars, but there's only so much duct tape we can wrap around these shuttles. I wish some of the enthusiasm and can-do attitude towards space that we had in the early days would return so that this next trek could be adequately funded and researched.

    • I wish some of the enthusiasm and can-do attitude towards space that we had in the early days would return so that this next trek could be adequately funded and researched.

      Instead we had Dan Goldin, whose main concern was writing fancy speeches and making sure employees used the correct NASA letterhead on memos.

    • Because they can make a lot of money out of it.

      Conspiracy sells especially to lameOs.

    • by Professor S. Brown ( 780963 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:06PM (#12263713)
      We didn't go to the moon! The shadows aren't parallel! The Van-Allen belt would have fried them all instantly! Why is there no huge flame coming out of the bottom of the lander? Last time I set fire to some petrol it burnt with a fire, what, is the petrol they used not flammable or something? Why no photographs of the stars? Why not point a telescope at the moon and look at the flag? We can see stars literally hundreds of miles away, why not a flag on the moon?
      • We can see stars literally hundreds of miles away...
        Shitram Brown, PhD
        Professor of Mathematics

        All I can say is it's a good thing you went for math and not astronomy.

        why not a flag on the moon?

        Gooooooooooooooooooooooogle []
      • I fully suspect the parent post was sarcastic... but I hope the name is a joke. Man, if that is really your name CHANGE IT NOW!

        (I have seen worse real names, though... like Dick Sux and Cox Cable)

      • He is joking.

        He's raising the standard array of moon-hoax objections.

        Sadly, they sound about that stupid.

      • I believe the astronauts rolled up their flag and brought it home with them.

        The more interesting question to me is, what was there to film the Lunar Module's liftoff from the surface of the moon, and aimed the camera upwards as it left? Though I doubt anyone would be so stupid as to make a hoax and forget that detail.

        • by orac2 ( 88688 )
          That footage--the LM ascent stage blasting off--is from one of the later Apollo missions (possibly the last, but my memory isn't certain), and the camera was mounted on a lunar rover, and controlled from mission control by Ed "Captain Video" Fendell. Because of the lag between Earth and Moon he had to time his control movements a little ahead of time, a tricky job.
  • by tquinlan ( 868483 ) <tom@th o m a s q> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:48PM (#12263601) Homepage
    ...and was born after the actual mission, that movie is "what I remember" about the Apollo 13 mission. Thankfully, it was well done, and reasonably accurate. It's good to see that we've got further background thanks to the Slashdot story.

    • Same here. I wonder if there were any major inaccuraries in this movie.
      • by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:17PM (#12263762)
        Quite a few: I'm not dissing Howard's movie: you can't tell a four day (actually, eight year) story in two hours without taking some dramatic license. Hence the article.

        It's important to realize how much what-if planning work was done up front, before Apollo 13, so that during the accident, the controllers weren't just making it all up as they went along. In particular, the efforts of the lunar module controllers in this regard are absent from the movie, as are a lot of other key contributions.

        Other issues: the CSM power-up sequence was not devised primarily under astronaut Ken Mattingly's auspices, but under EECOM John Aaron. Nor did Mattingly come up with the idea of running power back into the CSM from the LM: Bob Legler, a LM controller, came up with that idea months previously. In the movie, the crew were thrown around by the oxygen tank explosion: in fact it took a few minutes for everyone to realise something very serious had happened. And Kranz never said "Failure is not an option!"
        • Yeah, I understand the limitation of being two hours. I would love to see Apollo 13 movie expanded as a miniseries like From the Earth to the Moon [] (great one!).
        • I am pretty sure Gene Granz said, as spacecraft electrical systems were shutting down right and left, "OK people, let's figure out what's still good."

          I use this saying when helping someone with a very initial debugging and it seems it is not possible to get a program running without crashing or lockup.

          By the way, NOVA did an Apollo 13 show with extensive interviews of Jim Lovell and Gene Kranz -- much like the Beatles documentary that gave a lot of airtime to George Martin -- and I never saw the need to

      • On the DVD there's a nice commentary track by Jim Lovell and his wife and he points out some of the inaccuracies.
      • ummmm.......

        The Contrail?

        In actuality:

        • the arms on the launch gantry swing away simultaneously, not one at a time, as depicted.
        • The engine 5 failure indicator, the indicator lamp simply shut off, not flashing and buzzing as depicted.
        • The course-correction burn was 18 seconds, not 39.
        • The second and third stages of the Satun V burned an invisible flame, only the first stage had an orange flame as shown in the movie.
        • Every list needs five items
  • by DmitryProletariat ( 876610 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:52PM (#12263620)
    You think just because you landed a few capitalist pig astronauts on the moon you're so high faluten and mighty! We Soviets kept men in space for 439 days! We had the first woman in space! We had the first childrens space morning cereal! You bourgeois Amerikan NASA idolists live in delusion over your puny accomplishments. So you Saaaaaved the crew of Apollo 13. Ohhhhhh! I'm SOOOOOOO impressed! You capitalist pigs only exploited this tragedy by turning it into a profit driven Hollysick movie! So that is what you think of your great fearless icons! Fit only for money making propaganda!

    You bourgeois capitalist Amerikan's make me sick; stealing surpluss labor from the masses for your precious French perfume. BAH! Against the brick wall for you!


  • by ExtraT ( 704420 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @03:59PM (#12263662)
    It always amazes me how much more interesting and captivating a truthful and detailed account is, than any kind of "sexed up" hollywwod adaptation of it!
  • MBAs loved the movie (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bubblehead ( 35003 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:05PM (#12263701) Homepage Journal
    I was going to MIT in 1995 when the film was released. Everybody at the adjacent Sloan School of Management was talking about it and called it a perfect case study of great project management and team work. The article confirms that - great read.
  • by Space_Soldier ( 628825 ) <> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:05PM (#12263704)
    I wish that NASA of today was as exciting and had the same respect as back then. The leadership did not say, "Sorry Apollo 13, you're dead, and we won't spend any resources in a futile attempt to save you." Two shuttle disasters later due to bureaucracy and they don't even have the balls to save Hubble let alone mount a human trip to Mars.
    • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:09PM (#12263727)
      " I wish that NASA of today was as exciting and had
      the same respect as back then."

      Those of us who were around back then remember it being no less controversial, with just as much skepticism, and the same low regard from the Republicans over a program that was pressed by Democrats.

      The main mitigating factor was the idea that the space program would help stem the tide of Communism.

      The space age had an enormous impact on popular culture, but the politics were pretty much the same.
    • To be fair to NASA, there isn't much you can do in the two shuttle cases. The by the time the problems were obvious in the two shuttle disaster it was too late to do anything. In this case there was time to figure out what was wrong after it went wrong. I don't know if there is anything they could have inspected to see and prevent this problem in Apollo 13, but is wasn't near as serious as the Shuttle disasters.

      Apollo 13 had several minutes of thinking this was another minor issue before they realize

  • by EQ ( 28372 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:19PM (#12263769) Homepage Journal
    Failure is not an Option [] By Gene Kranz -- the link goes to a google search for the book. (Choose your own bookseller - no amazon link whoring).

    Gene Kranz (the guy with the serious crewcut) tells the whole story of how they got to the point to where the "geeks" could make a life and death difference in this situation, and then how they managed to pull it off. Its a great study of real engineering by real engineers under incredible time pressure, with the lives of people and the hopes of the nation in their hands.
    • Or how 'bout Apollo 13 [] (formerly called Lost Moon, which is a much more interesting title) by Jim Lovell, who was the Apollo 13 commander. Different focus than Kranz's book (which I also recommend), on mostly the one flight rather than the whole space program. You get to see which parts of the movie are right (most of it), which parts of the movie actually happened but at a different time or only slightly different mannner (such as Lovell's "you know that trip to Acapulco we had planned" bit, which actually
  • by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:21PM (#12263783) all of our science is just to build better weapons systems. Sigh.
    • all of our science is just to build better weapons systems.

      You think it was all "peaceful scientific exploration"? Wanna see a list of weaponry that was developed in those days?

    • As opposed to what happened back then, which was to build a space program out of the weapons technology developed during the twenty (or so) years previous. Assisted, in the brightest display of international friendship, by the former German V-weapon scientists and engineers. Further facilitiated by the computer technology originally developed to break enemy codes. All that for national pride, and an opportunity to one-up the Soviets.

      Yup, nuthin' good ever came of better weapon system.

    • YOu realize, that the big F-1 engines on the Saturn-V were a revison of ones designed for the military. The rockets for the mercury program were basicaly ICBM's. The whole program wouldn't have been done if it the research and development didn't have immediate miliatry applications. The military wanted to be able to put up spy satellites, and develop improved ICBMs. That's why the space program was so important.
  • by Banner ( 17158 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @04:55PM (#12263972) Journal
    In the late 80's (Flight Test Engineer). A lot of the guys who worked on the LEM and where there during the accident were still around. Some sat next to me. I got to hear some really great stories about what happened, and the things they had to do.

    My favorite was that they (Grumman) got everyone who had anything to do with the program rounded up, put in a large room, and then they put an armed guard at the door. You could leave to go to the bathroom, that was it. They all stayed in there working on solutions and answering questions until Apollo landed, and apparently noone even complained.(Try that these days!)

    Also it was a tradition at Grumman to point to the LEM and what it did, and how well it was made. It set a very high standard that we were all expected to live up to, and were often reminded of.
  • Sad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eminence ( 225397 ) <> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @05:40PM (#12264243) Homepage

    All those Apollo anniversaries make me sad. 35 years is my whole life, I was born the same year Apollo 13 made its epic return to Earth. And what happened through my whole life with space exploration? Are we further than we were in 1970? All that's left from the grand dreams of the period are some old shuttles, that make news when they fly at all, a space station which we wouldn't be able to operate without Russian (paid) help and a huge, costly government agency that produces lots of nice animations, small droids and very, very little substance - and tons of SF movies. In our silver screen dreams we have already conquered whole galaxy, in reality we hardly moved.

    I know it's a harsh judgment. But technologically speaking we could have been walking on Mars a decade ago, we could have been visiting Moon regularly, we could have been sending dozens of automated probes each year not just a few. Isn't that sad?

    I think it is each time I have to ask myself: will I live long enough to see anything to even match, let alone outshine Apollo achievements?

    • Re:Sad... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bungley ( 768242 )
      I have to concur, especially in the wake of the clearly premature retirement of concorde.

      What was it, a single single failure in over 30 years?

      Technology really is moving backwards.

    • Its all about money - setting up moon bases and exploring mars is worth nothing, in fact less than nothing because it costs so much, all its worth is the knowledge and experience we would gain in living on other planets and maybe some better space ship designs but none of that is commercially viable except maybe for very very long term investments. We have the technology to do loads of things, but most of the time they aren't done because it just isn't worth it money wise.
    • You know, when I first read your post I nodded my head understanding your position - though not really agreeing with it, I understood it. But the more I looked at everyone else's posts, the more I realize that your opinion is pretty widespread - and, in my opinion, it's a pretty cynical and clouded view.

      I guess I see the state of space exploration differently. Instead of all the glitz and glamor of manned space flight from the past, the focus is shifting. Space exploration is undergoing a maturing pha
      • I of course watch private endeavors into space very closely, and I think I agree with you more than you think. I see private rocketeers and China's advancement into space as two most promising factors nowadays. I even go around advising younger people to get into space industry, because I think it will be hot within ten years or so.

        But we are discussing here in a certain context and that is of Apollo 13's anniversary. And with focus on human space flight, which is obvious within that context I wrote my (r

        • You're right in many respects, of course. From my perspective of having grown up in the post-Challenger world, I'm probably a little more on the conservative viewpoint on manned space flight. I think we rushed it in the 60's because Kennedy wanted to beat the commies, because we finally had the technology to accomplish the dream, and because we were so exicted to do it that no cost was too great. Now, I think it's only right that we take a few steps back and evaluate what we're doing. Not to the point w
      • Rocket-based technology is still eons away from being anywhere near the cheap and safe ballpark. At the current rate it is evolving as a commercial service (which it is), it will take forever to realize your dream. Even were we to design a 2005-era rocket from scratch using all the newest and latest tech, It's still *barely* acheiving its goal using insanely sophisticated and insanely expensive equipment.

        What I hope we will see in the next 20 years is something that will make space economically feasible, t
    • a huge, costly government agency that produces lots of nice animations, small droids and very, very little substance

      NASA is involved with a whole lot of substantial research; you just need to look beyond the manned program to see it. Things like Gravity Probe B, the Mars rovers, Cassini-Huygens, Hubble, Chandra, etc. do far more to advance actual science than Apollo (or any other manned mission, for that matter) ever did -- and at far lower cost.

      I mourn with you the loss of the spirit of adventure embodi
    • Back when we first quit the migratory life to farm we made a lot of great strides, but what has changed since then? We still grow the same corn. Sure we have tractors now, but even they have not advanced in years again.

      There are points in time where everything comes together and makes what seems like giant leaps. However they are not as much as they seem. Things have to build for a long time before the technology is ready for the leap. Then we make the leap quick, and have to settle down because th

      • We still grow the same corn. Sure we have tractors now, but even they have not advanced in years again.

        Wanna make a bet on that?

        The varieties of corn grown today are quite different than those grown 30 years ago. Typically producing two medium length ears per stalk rather than one long ear. The rows of corn are planted closer together. The plants within a row are spaced more closely. The varieties used today are more tolerant of this high density planting. Some varieties have been genetically engineere

  • by theolein ( 316044 ) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @11:27PM (#12266175) Journal
    One thing that struck me from reading that article is the enormous amount of flexibility in both materials and design of the spacecraft then compared to spacecraft now. I know many many people here on slashdot have pointed out that the escape systems on the shuttles were dropped in order to save money, but that's not the entire problem.

    From what I gather, the guys in mission control had to jump through many hoops to get things to work after the explosion, but firstly, they had practiced almost every possible problem, (the use of LM power to run the mission shortly after launch although it was blocked because of dead CM batteries and the CO2 filters which were recognised as necessary immediatley by one guy as soon as he heard the LM was to be used).

    The design and materials were extremely primitive by today's standards, but relays are a lot easier to reconfigure than a modern computer chip and the simplicity of the filters meant that with basic materials they could be reconfigured.

    In other words, the machines were vastly more robust than modern systems.

    And then there's the planning. They had actually taken, although not seriously enough initially, but later someone had decided to check that contingency out all the same.

    With the shuttles, there has never been a way to fix anything if the machine would fuck up in orbit. Nada. Costs too much. And what really absolutely amazes me is that NASA, that spends around $400 million on a single shuttle launch never thought about renting or buying 2 or 3 Russian Soyuz craft to be ready on a permanent basis in case something happened in orbit, and that even though Soyuz launches only cost a tiny fraction of shuttle launches, are far easier and faster to prepare and launch, and don't even cost much at all if they aren't launched and everything goes well.

    And no one, even after Challenger in 86, thought about checking out the shuttle regularly in orbit.

    In some ways, it's almost criminal neglect. What happened to NASA?
    • When the shuttle first flew, there was a concern about the tiles. I remember stories about how they flew the shuttle over a telescope in Hawaii to check the tiles. I also remember talk about a device that would squirt an ablative goo into the cavity of any missing tile. Lately, I hear that there's no way to repair tile damage in orbit. What ever happened to this device?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        They switched to a thinner skin, in preference to tiles, for many sections. Too many tiles were falling off during the mission. (It was rare for a mission to be completed without literally dozens of tiles being missing.)

        The skin was too thin, too fragile and far too ineffective to be used over the whole shuttle. If it had been, the disaster might never have happened. Which indicates that once NASA had the skin, they didn't put enough funds into R&D to improve on it.

        The first shuttle explosion was al

  • by colonist ( 781404 ) on Monday April 18, 2005 @01:25AM (#12266782) Journal

    This year marks the 35th anniversary of Apollo 13, but it's also the 10th anniversary of Ron Howard's "Apollo 13".

    There's an Apollo 13 Anniversary Edition DVD [] out, which includes the IMAX version!

    There's more info at IMDB [] and Google Reviews [].

    Good quote:

    From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it's not a miracle, we just decided to go.
  • The best book on the Apollo 13 mission is 13: The Flight That Failed [] by Henry S. F. Cooper. (The link is to

    I first read it in 1972, when it was first released. If you're interested in understanding the Apollo program, this book may be the best place to start. Telling the story of Apollo 13, Cooper introduces the flight controllers and explains how they work together. He provides a foundation for understanding ANY Apollo mission.

    The official NASA line was always that we had detailed plans re

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling