UT: 13 Things that Saved Apollo 13

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UT: 13 Things that Saved Apollo 13

Post by bystander » Fri Apr 16, 2010 5:47 pm

This is an on-going series of articles by Nancy Atkinson of Universe Today.
I will add articles to this post as they come online, so check back often.

First a little background information.

NASA: Apollo 13 Mission Page
NASA: The Apollo 13 Accident

What Really Happened on Apollo 13?
Universe Today - 2009 Nov 08
Apollo 13 crew reflects on the mission from David Meerman Scott on Vimeo.

Hear the story of what really happened on Apollo 13 from two of the astronauts who were on board, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise. Lovell provides great detail on the history of the oxygen tank and why it exploded, and both Lovell and Haise have some great stories to share about the flight, movie inaccuracies and more. Thanks to David Meerman Scott from Apollo Artifacts who took this video at the Kennedy Space Center at the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation event on November 6, 2009.


13 Things that Saved Apollo 13
Nancy Atkinson - Universe Today
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, for 13 days, Universe Today will feature "13 Things That Saved Apollo 13," discussing different turning points of the mission with NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill.

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Re: UT: 13 Things that Saved Apollo 13

Post by astronut » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:23 pm

Hey! - What happened to parts 7-13 ????

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Re: UT: 13 Things that Saved Apollo 13

Post by Astronut » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:26 pm

Ignore the above post. I just caught the begining at the top. Its different from the first one.

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Introduction

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:37 am

Introduction (2010 April 08)
On the night of April 13th, 1970, when the oxygen tank in Apollo 13's command module exploded, a 27-year-old engineer named Jerry Woodfill sat at his console in the Mission Evaluation Room at Johnson Space Center, monitoring the caution and warning system he helped create for the Apollo spacecraft.

"It was 9:08 pm, and I looked at the console because it flickered a few times and then I saw a master alarm come on," Woodfill said, talking from his office at JSC where he has worked for almost 45 years. "Initially I thought something was wrong with the alarm system or the instrumentation, but then I heard Jack Swigert in my headset: "Houston, we've had a problem," and then a few moments later, Jim Lovell said the same thing."

And so began the most perilous but eventually triumphant situation ever encountered in human spaceflight.

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Part 1: Timing

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:38 am

Part 1: Timing (2010 April 09)
Oxygen Tank two in the Apollo 13 Service Module exploded at Mission Elapsed Time (MET) 55 hours and 55 minutes, 321,860 kilometers (199,990 miles) away from Earth. If the tank was going to rupture and the crew was going to survive the ordeal, the explosion couldn't have happened at a better time. "Not everyone agrees with all the things I've come up with in my research," said NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill who has studied the Apollo 13 mission in intricate detail, "but pretty much everyone agrees on this, including Jim Lovell. The timing of when the explosion happened was key. Much earlier or later in the mission would have prevented a successful rescue.”

If the explosion happened earlier (and assuming it would have occurred after Apollo 13 left Earth orbit), the distance and time to get back to Earth would have been so great that there wouldn't have been sufficient power, water and oxygen for the crew to survive. Had it happened much later, perhaps after astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise had already descended to the lunar surface, there would not have been the opportunity to use the lunar lander as a lifeboat.

But looking at why the explosion happened when it did shows how fortuitous the timing ended up to be.

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Part 2: The Hatch That Wouldn't Close

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:39 am

Part 2: The Hatch That Wouldn't Close (2010 April 11)
When the oxygen tank exploded on the Apollo 13 Command Module, the astronauts on board and everyone in Mission Control had no idea what the problem was. In his book, "Lost Moon," Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell thought the "bang-whump-shudder" that shook the spacecraft could have been a rogue meteor hit on the lunar module, Aquarius. Quickly, he told Jack Swigert to "button up" or close the hatch between the Command Module Odyssey, and Aquarius, so that both spacecraft wouldn't depressurize.

But the hatch wouldn't close.

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Part 3: Charlie Duke's Measles

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:40 am

Part 3: Charlie Duke's Measles (2010 April 12)
Just 72 hours before the scheduled launch of Apollo 13, Ken Mattingly was removed from the mission and replaced by Jack Swigert from the back-up crew as Command Module Pilot. Charlie Duke, also from the back-up crew caught the measles from one of his children, and exposed Mattingly — the only other member of either the prime or back-up crews who were not immune to the disease. If Mattingly were to come down with the measles, he might contract it while alone in the Command Module while Jim Lovell and Fred Haise were walking on the Moon.

"I think Charlie Duke's measles contributed to the rescue," said NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, who has come up with "13 Things That Saved Apollo 13." "This is one that probably everyone disagrees with me, but it seems like the astronauts on board were perfect to deal with what happened on the Apollo 13 mission."

Woodfill says his conviction in no way denigrates the abilities of Ken Mattingly. "Ken was a wonderful crew member," Woodfill said, "and he is a very detailed guy who helped with the rescue of Apollo 13 in a magnificent way. In the movie, Apollo 13, they capture the essence of how he is an 'engineer's engineer'."

Although, ironically Mattingly and Duke flew together later on the Apollo 16 mission, were it not for Charlie Duke's measles, Woodfill said that Swigert’s special talents for an Apollo 13-type mission would not have been present.

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Part 4: Using the LM for Propulsion

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:41 am

Part 4: Using the LM for Propulsion (2010 April 13)
After Flight Director Gene Kranz and his team in Mission Control had ascertained the true peril the Apollo 13 crew faced following the explosion of an oxygen tank in the Command and Service Module, they next faced a big decision. What was the best way to get the astronauts back to Earth? Do they get them home as fast as possible, or as safely as possible? The final decision they made likely saved Apollo 13.

"Immediately after the explosion, some recommended a faster return using the powerful service propulsion system (SPS), the engine designed for the retro burn into lunar orbit and the subsequent firing to propel the crew homeward to Earth," said NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill.

Using these engines to execute a direct abort burn would allow the crew to turn the spacecraft around, come around the front side of the Moon and be back to Earth within a day and a half. This was the quickest option, but it meant using the SPS, which were very near the area that had exploded on the CSM. No one knew if the engine had been damaged, too.

The risk of using using the lunar module’s descent engine was an unknown. If it failed or blew, or if the burn wasn't executed perfectly, the crew could impact the Moon.

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Part 5: Unexplained Shutdown of the Saturn V Center Engine

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:42 am

Part 5: Unexplained Shutdown of the Saturn V Center Engine (2010 April 14)
While oxygen tank number two on the Apollo 13 spacecraft was an accident waiting to happen, another problem on the Saturn V rocket could have destroyed Apollo 13 before it reached Earth orbit. During the second-stage boost, the center – or inboard — engine shut down two minutes early. The shutdown wasn't a problem, as the other four engines were able to compensate for the loss by operating for an extra four minutes. But why the engine shut down is a mystery that may have saved the mission.

"A catastrophic failure should have ensued," said Apollo engineer Jerry Woodfill, "and would have, except for the unexplained behavior of the engine’s shutoff system. In fact, even the NASA Apollo 13 accident report fails to deal with the seriousness of the event."

When the center engine shut down, it caused a few moments of uneasiness for Mission Control and the crew. Speaking after the flight, Commander Jim Lovell said that when NASA gave them the OK to carry on with the flight, "We all breathed a sigh of relief on the spacecraft. Hey, that was our crisis over with and we thought we'd have a smooth flight from then on."

Woodfill said that the quick assessment in Mission Control was that a minor electrical signal failed to keep the engine operating so that it shut down prematurely. But that wasn't the problem.

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Part 6: Navigating By Earth's Terminator

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:42 am

Part 6: Navigating By Earth's Terminator (2010 April 16)
The rupture and explosion of Apollo 13's oxygen tank crippled the spacecraft, endangering the lives of the crew and making a Moon landing not an option. But more problems arose as the perilous flight progressed. Keeping the spacecraft on the right trajectory was a huge challenge for Mission Control, and especially for the crew. Normally, the ship's computers allowed for much of the navigation, but due to the loss of the Service Module as an electrical power source, even backup navigation and targeting functions were unavailable. The Lander’s limited battery power required the shutting down of its guidance computer. The astronauts also needed to use an on-board sextant to confirm their location by sighting-in the stars, similar to how ancient sailors navigated. "There are thirty-seven stars – and one is the sun," said Apollo engineer Jerry Woodfill, "that provided an accurate way of aligning the spacecraft's computer platform to allow the astronauts to steer their way through the heavens."

But the explosion of the tank had enshrouded the Apollo 13 spacecraft with debris. Commander Jim Lovell and his crew couldn't discern the stars from the particles that glimmered in the sunlight. "The situation was, without the ability to see the stars, you couldn't navigate," Woodfill said.

But NASA had a backup navigation plan, thanks to an insightful NASA contractor employee. This novel way of navigating had only been tried once before in space. And coincidentally, the astronaut who used it was Jim Lovell, during his previous flight — Apollo 8 — which orbited the Moon in December of 1968.

An employee of TRW – which was the contractor for many of the navigational systems and procedures for NASA — thought of an unusual backup navigation plan one day. "This fellow is a friend and neighbor of mine," said Woodfill, "and by his account of the story to me, he said that a thought came to him one day about Apollo astronauts using stars to navigate. What if the stars couldn’t be seen? Now, that was highly unlikely, as there are no clouds, fog, or smoke to conceal stars from viewing by astronauts. But, nevertheless, the thought simply wouldn’t cease. Soon a follow-up idea came to mind. Why not use the Earth’s terminator?"

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Part 7: The Apollo 1 Fire

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:43 am

Part 7: The Apollo 1 Fire (2010 April 18)
"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." – Theodore Roosevelt

It's hard to chronicle any of the Apollo flights without mentioning the Apollo 1 fire. And while many believe the Apollo program perhaps wouldn't have succeeded without that disaster, the sacrifice made by Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee definitely saved the crew of Apollo 13.

"Among the early space missions, I’ve always believed that the greatest courage was needed by their first crews," said Apollo engineer Jerry Woodfill. "Whether it was Al Shepard, the Apollo 1 crew, or shuttle astronauts John Young or Bob Crippen, the most likely danger would be the first time any new space craft was launched into space. Flaws in design or manufacture could very well be fatal during maiden missions."

On January 27, 1967, during a test on the launch pad with the crew on board, tragedy struck when a flash fire started in the command module. With the pure oxygen environment inside the capsule, the fire quickly proved fatal for the crew before they or workers at the launch pad could get the hatch open. Although the ignition source of the fire was never conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths were attributed to a wide range of design and construction flaws in the early Apollo Command Module. The manned phase of the project was delayed for twenty months while these problems were fixed.

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Part 8: The Command Module Wasn't Severed

Post by bystander » Tue Apr 20, 2010 1:44 am

Part 8: The Command Module Wasn't Severed (2010 April 19)
When the Apollo 13 crew jettisoned the crippled Service Module as they approached Earth, they saw the extent of the damage from the explosion of an oxygen tank. "There's one whole side of that spacecraft missing!" Jim Lovell radioed to Mission Control, his voice reflecting his incredulousness at seeing the damage of a 13-ft panel blown off the spacecraft. However, the situation could have been more dire. The heat shield on the Command Module could have been damaged. What's more, NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill said that instead of the panel blowing out, the explosion could have — and maybe should have –severed the Command Module from the Service Module.

Photos taken by the Apollo 13 crew after the service module was jettisoned in preparation for the command module’s reentry via the heat shield revealed that not only was the panel missing from the side of the spacecraft — blown into the vastness of space by the exploding pressure of the detonating oxygen – there was also damage to the Hi Gain Antenna, at the right of the vehicle drawing above, indicating the panel had catapulted into space, striking the antenna. What the images couldn't show, and what the Apollo 13 crew couldn't see was if there was any damage to the Command Module's heat shield.

"The structural design of the interior of the Service Module is that is has a long open tunnel-like volume in the center of the module, about 30 inches by 13 feet," said Woodfill. "The tunnel is much like a chimney such that gases, liquids, or particles could readily move through it toward the main engine bell at the right and the heat shield at the left. The tunnel is not sealed so that the explosive force of the burning oxygen from the exploded O2 tank 2 could escape into and around the tunnel in the direction of both the heat shield and main engine."

Woodfill said concern was voiced in Mission Control that shrapnel from the exploding tank had entered the tunnel, and perhaps ultimately caused damage to both the heat shield and main engine. The main engine wasn't the biggest issue, as the crew was able to use the lunar lander’s descent engine. (see our previous article , "Using the LM for Propulsion.") But there was only one heat shield, and it had to work to enable the capsule and the crew to survive the fiery reentry through Earth's atmosphere.

Thankfully, as it turned out ,the heat shield wasn't damaged.

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Part 9: Position of the Tanks

Post by bystander » Wed Apr 21, 2010 2:02 pm

Part 9: Position of the Tanks (2010 April 21)
The saga of the Apollo 13 accident actually began years prior to the launch of the mission. As Jim Lovell wrote in his book, "Lost Moon" the accident was "an accumulation of human errors and technical anomalies that doomed Apollo 13." But had coincidences been just a little different Apollo 13 could have been an accident from which there was no rescue. NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill believes where Tank Two was positioned in the Service Module led to a successful rescue. "I contend that the crew would have died if the flawed O2 Tank Two had not been on the outer perimeter of the Service Module," Woodfill said. "The position of that tank had much to do with the extent of the explosion’s damage. Had Tank One been damaged, no rescue would have been possible."

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Part 10: Duct Tape

Post by bystander » Mon Apr 26, 2010 10:37 pm

Part 10: Duct Tape (2010 April 26)
t's the handy man's secret weapon, and has become a must-have item for astronauts, too. While duct tape alone didn't save the Apollo 13 crew, it certainly would have been difficult for them to have survived without it. Even though the accident which crippled the ship took out the two main oxygen tanks in the Service Module, having enough oxygen really wasn't an issue for the crew. A big problem was having too much carbon dioxide (CO2), which came from the astronauts' own exhalations. The Lunar Module had lithium hydroxide canisters to remove the CO2 for two men for two days, but on board were three men trying to survive in this LM lifeboat for four days. However, with a little ingenuity and duct tape, the Apollo Mission Operations Team was able to fit "a square peg in a round hole."
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The Apollo 13 fix -- complete with duct tape -- of making a square canister fit into a round hole. Credit: NASA

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Part 11: A Hollywood Movie

Post by bystander » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:34 am

Part 11: A Hollywood Movie (2010 April 27)
A Hollywood movie depicts three astronauts who survive an accident in space, but their lives hang in the balance as the people in Mission Control at NASA work night and day to figure out a way to bring the spacefarers home safely.

You probably think I'm describing the 1995 movie, "Apollo 13" by producer Ron Howard, but actually this is a recap of a 1969 movie called "Marooned."

"The correlation between 'Marooned' and actual events threatening Apollo 13 is really uncanny," said NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill. "People may not agree, but in my mind this movie was actually a catalyst to the rescue of Apollo 13."
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Submit Your Questions about Apollo, Apollo 13 to NASA Engine

Post by bystander » Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:38 pm

Submit Your Questions about Apollo, Apollo 13 to NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill
Our series "13 Things That Saved Apollo 13" has raised a few questions for some of our readers about spacecraft design, decisions made during the Apollo program, and general questions about spaceflight. Some of you have already left questions as comments on the articles or sent in emails. NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, who has been featured in this series, has graciously agreed to answer reader questions, and we'll publish the questions and Jerry's answers in a Q&A format. Now's your chance to ask away! Submit your questions in the comment section here, or on any of the "13 Things" articles. Or, you can email your questions to Nancy

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Part 12: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous

Post by bystander » Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:54 pm

Part 12: Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (29 April 2010)
Going the Moon was big. It was a giant stride in doing what had once been thought impossible. Initially many scientists and engineers had big plans for huge rockets akin to the ships imagined in science fiction: one piece vehicles that took off from Earth, landed intact bottom down on the Moon and had the ability to take off again. But other rocket engineers had different ideas, and this caused some big arguments. The method of going to the Moon that eventually won out used — in part — a little lunar lander. This decision ended up being instrumental in saving the crew of Apollo 13. And that was big.

There were three different methods to choose from in reaching the Moon. One, called the Direct Ascent Mode, would have used the big Flash Gordon-like enormous rocket – which was known as a Nova class rocket –to fly straight to the Moon, land and return. Second, the Earth Orbital Rendezvous technique called for two not-quite-as big Saturn V boosters to launch and rendezvous in Earth orbit. In this mode, one rocket would carry a single Apollo vehicle and its crew, and the other, more fuel, which would be transferred to Apollo in Earth orbit, and then the spacecraft would head off to the Moon. The third option was Lunar Orbit Rendezvous which used only one three-stage Saturn V booster, and split the Apollo vehicle into two separate vehicles – a combined Command and Service Module (CSM), and a Lunar Module (LM).

Those familiar with NASA history know that Lunar Orbit Rendezvous was the final choice.

But this mode wasn't an obvious choice, said NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill.

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Part 13: The Mission Operations Team

Post by bystander » Thu May 06, 2010 1:03 am

Part 13: The Mission Operations Team (05 May 2010)
The phrase "last but not least" was likely never more appropriate. Though this is the last article of our "13 Things That Saved Apollo 13" series, it might be the most important. "Each time I’ve heard Jim Lovell or Fred Haise speak of the rescue," said NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, "they have always expressed their gratitude to the folks on the ground who contributed to saving their lives."

And it wasn't just the astronauts who were grateful. As a testament to the appreciation the rest of the country felt, the Mission Operations Team for Apollo 13 — those who worked in the Mission Operation Control Room (MOCR – more commonly called Mission Control) and the Mission Evaluation Room (MER) — were awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"We fulfilled the latter part of President Kennedy's mandate," said Woodfill, "by returning them safely to Earth."
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Re: UT: 13 Things that Saved Apollo 13

Post by TelescopicView » Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:01 pm

bystander wrote:Submit Your Questions about Apollo, Apollo 13 to NASA Engineer Jerry Woodfill
Our essay "13 Things That Saved Apollo 13" has raised a few questions for some of our readers about spacecraft design, decisions made during the Apollo program, and general questions about spaceflight. Some of you have already left questions as comments on the articles or sent in emails. NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, who has been featured in this series, has graciously agreed to answer reader questions, and we'll publish the questions and Jerry's answers in a Q&A format. Now's your chance to ask away! Submit your questions in the comment section here, or on any of the "13 Things" articles. Or, you can email your questions to Nancy
bystander,

First off thank you for taking the time to relay this essay of sorts over to these boards. You may not realize it, but when a student such as myself happens to run across such content it is truly like finding a diamond in the rough. It is interesting how people can take the FACTS of the matter and turn it in to skepticism. I feel like although many many things did go right and were quite circumstantial, that part 13 was the most important. With trained humans possessing a multitude of personal qualities, things could have gone so much worse! Thank you again for the unexpected lesson on Apollo 13.