If the succeeds of the landings of the Moon in the Apollo 11 and the Apollo 12 gave the impression that the missions to the Moon were easy, the Apollo 13, launched on the 11th April 1970, put in relief the dangers that comport these trips.
The objective of the mission
This would have had to be the third trip from NASA to the Moon, and the astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise and John Swigert had trained a lot for the mission. The objective of this mission was to explore the formation of Fra Mauro, which is a mountainous zone that the scientists of NASA suspected it was originated by the material that was thrown away from a crater after the impact of a meteorite. The crew of the Apollo 13 never managed to get to Fra Mauro.
Problems during the fly
After only 56 hours of fly, an oxygen tank that was in the spacecraft service module exploded. This explosion provoked failures to diverse alimentation, electricity and vital-support systems of the vehicle. The NASA engineers quickly confirmed that it wasn’t possible to repair the damages, for which the service module wouldn’t be able to offer the astronauts the necessary support. Fortunately, the lunar module wasn’t affected by this accident. As it was an autonomous spacecraft, it disposed of an alimentation source and own vital-support systems, that could maintain the astronauts alive during the time that, the controllers of the mission in the Johnson Space Centre and in the installations of the NASA, searched desperately the best way to return them to the Earth.
While the NASA teams worked, in all around the world the evolution of the drama in real-time could be appreciated in all the television news programs.
One of the biggest problems for the crew was the need of eliminating from the lunar module the carbon-dioxide exhaled by the astronauts. The limited supplying provision of lithium hydroxide, which is normally used for this proposal, wasn’t sufficient for the time that they would take to return to the Earth in a trans-lunar trajectory fly, which was the safest for the crew. Even if the commandment module disposed of more lithium hydroxide bottles, because of its form they weren’t compatible with the equipment of the lunar module. Using a piece of hose from the space suits, and guided by the mission controllers, the crew of the Apollo 13 was able to improvise a device, that they named “the postbox”, which enabled them to use the lithium hydroxide from the commandment module to feed the filtration system of the carbon-dioxide of the lunar module.
Return to the Earth
After having found this solution, the crew of the Apollo 13 completed its trip around the Moon and returned to the commandment module to re-entry in the terrestrial atmosphere and land with success on the 17th April 1970.
Paradoxically, after the catastrophic disaster of the mission, the fact that NASA achieved to maintain with life its astronauts and make them return to the Earth safe and sound reinforced internationally its reputation as a competent and capable administration, even more than the two previous landings on the Moon did. Without a doubt, NASA had reached to get victorious from the disaster.