Apollo 13 spacecraft was disabled Monday night, the planned moon landing canceled and ground controllers battled to bring the three astronauts home safely. NASA announced at 1 AM EST today that no moon landing was possible and the crew was last reported in no immediate danger. It was the gravest crisis in the seven flights of the Apollo program.
Astronaut James A. Lovell reported the loss of power was preceded by a large noise. “We’ve had a large bang associated with the caution and warning light,” he said. “Houston, we’ve got a problem…a problem with the on board electrical power system,” flight commander Lovell reported earlier from space. “We are now looking toward an alternate mission, swinging around the moon, and using the lunar module descent engine,” a NASA spokesman said. Two of Apollo 13’s three fuel cells, which supply electricity, failed and the astronauts were relying partially on battery power. They were instructed to severely reduce the power drain of the spacecraft, even to the point of turning down the lights in the cabin.
Lovell, Jr., Fred W. Haise, and John L. Swigert, Jr. also reported that a gas was venting into space and that the oxygen gauge on one fuel cell was reading zero, indicating oxygen to the cell was gone. Oxygen was also bleeding into space from the cabin and the astronauts were told to open a hatch door into the moon craft. This would enable them to breathe oxygen from the moon lander. Lovell and Haise quickly moved into the lunar module Aquarius when Mission Control warned that only 15 minutes of electrical power was left in the command ship’s system. The two astronauts moved into the moon lander to siphon away electrical power to ensure their survival. Mission Control announced the problem apparently was a critical leak in the super-cool oxygen storage tank of the command ship.
This was apparently the source of a major power failure which knocked out many of the spacecraft’s systems and plunged it into semi-darkness. Mission Control said the lunar module was serve as a lifeboat for the crew. “Sometime later,” the control center said, “they would return to a free trajectory” near the moon. This would be accomplished by firing the LM engine that normally would be used for descent to the moon. They will continue through space, circle the moon, and use the lunar ship’s engine to arc back to Earth. Success would land them in the Pacific about 12:12 PM EST Friday.
Uncontrolled gyrations, thought to be caused by the venting of oxygen, caused the spacecraft to toss and twist out of control at several points after the emergency began. The spacemen will probably ride in the lunar module, until they approach the Earth’s atmosphere. They may then return to the command module Odyssey and use its small remaining oxygen and batteries to return to Earth. The lunar module is not designed to fly in Earth’s atmosphere and would dissolve in fire if they attempted to land in it.