back to article Rewriting the checklists: 50 years since Apollo 13 reported it 'had a problem' – and boffins saved the day

55 hours, 52 minutes and 58 seconds into Apollo 13's mission, capsule communicator Jack Lousma* asked the crew to stir the spacecraft's cryo tanks. Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert did so, and the "boring" mission became suddenly all too interesting. Writing in his book Failure Is Not An Option Gene Kranz recalled Sy …

  1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    13 Minutes To The Moon podcast

    It is very informative and goes into quite a fair amount of detail. It can also be repetitive too. Many of the people in mission control or in space have given interviews for the podcast.

    It is amazing how much can be done with so little although NASA did have rooms filled with engineers and limitless supplies of money. That the astronauts survived Apollo 13 seems like nothing short of miracle.

    I also recommend both seasons 1 & 2 of the '13 Minutes To The Moon' podcast. Season 1 (Apollo 11) can be listened to straight through. Season 2 (Apollo 13) is almost finished.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: 13 Minutes To The Moon podcast

      "limitless supplies of money"

      But very little on which it could be usefully spent. Sometimes money is not the answer. Having the right people with the right skills and the right knowledge might be.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: 13 Minutes To The Moon podcast

        Brady Heywood, an Irish forensic engineer, also did a series on Apollo13 as part of his podcast on engineering fsck-ups


    2. Dave559 Silver badge

      Re: 13 Minutes To The Moon podcast

      Apollo 13 in real time is also incredibly engrossing.

      It does what it says on the tin (you can skip to any part of the mission timeline, of course, and key moments are bookmarked), and includes not only the audio recordings between Mission Control and the Apollo, but also the Mission Control specialist desks. It's fascinating to hear the discussions between them and makes you realise just how many sources of information the Flight Controller had to try to absorb in a very pressured environment. The site also contains video footage as it happens, and photographs at the moment in the timeline when they were taken, it's very well put together.

  2. redpawn

    I remember

    as an elementary school student being very worried and seeing parents, papers and the television news looking grim. It was clear that the world was united in prayer and desire for the crew to make it back safely, rare unity at that time. Both the fear and relief was intense. Getting any information as it became available over the years has been welcome as it highlights the best of humanity.

    My hat is forever off for the crew and mission control. A beer is not enough thanks.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      Re: I remember

      I also remember it well. I was only 8, but had followed the Apollo missions avidly, and of course I wanted to be come an astronaut. The Apollo 13 mission was an incredibly tense time, I remember all too well. I followed all the news closely. We all cheered loudly when news came in the astronauts were safe. It was an amazing feat of ingenuity to get them back safely.

      What people also often forget is haw candid NASA was about the near disaster. They didn't try to hide the problem, but kept people posted about every turn of events. I remember well being horrified at the news that the capsule might not be able to return to earth and might ultimately end up orbiting the sun perpetually, carrying the bodies of three astronauts. Fortunately, that was averted. A single beer is indeed not enough thanks

    2. druck Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I remember

      For me the saving of Apollo 13 is a very close second to the achievement of landing on the moon. It really shows what man is capable of in a dire situation, from the quick thinking and ingenuity of those engineers on the ground, to the composure and resilience of the astronauts in the harsh conditions of the LM.

  3. OzBob

    From a time when small furry creatures from alpha centauri

    were REAL small furry creatures from alpha centauri!

    Apollo 13 is a great metaphor to throw at short-sighted managers who want cut-and-dried solutions to basic problems and employ script-droids as admins.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: From a time when small furry creatures from alpha centauri

      Apollo 13 is a great metaphor to throw at short-sighted managers who want cut-and-dried solutions to basic problems and employ script-droids as admins.

      Like those who insisted the Shuttle launch "on-time or else"? Sad situation when managers can override engineers. Luckily for Apollo, it was the engineers in charge.

  4. Cynic_999

    Focus on the solution, not the problem or who caused it.

    A tribute to the engineering mindset that finds pragmatic solutions to problems big and small almost every day.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Focus on the solution, not the problem or who caused it.

      And consider the engineering that went into the systems that created a craft the could experience a problem of this scale and still get home. It was a different world in those days. I toast the engineers who designed the entire program - true heroes and normally ignored, no problem, we're all used to it.

  5. Wade Burchette

    As it happened

    YouTube has the recording of Apollo 13 when this happened. It is simply amazing how calm the astronauts were in this situation. And after you watch that, <a href=">you can watch the re-entry</a>.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: As it happened

      That's a pretty horrifying video.

  6. BebopWeBop

    The bang experienced by the Apollo 13 crew must have been awfully "solid," as Kranz put it.

    Understatement of the year!

  7. SGJ

    Episode 7, the final episode, of season 2 of "13 Minutes to the Moon" has been delayed because the presenter, Kevin Fong, is also a consultant anaesthetist at UCL Hospitals and anaesthetic lead for Major Incident Planning and he is currently otherwise engaged...

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge


      BBC World Service has been broadcasting "13 Minutes to the Moon", but an outside view of the climax is offered in their 10 (9?) minute "Witness History" documentaries, where they interview people who witnessed history.

      In the case of:

      "Simon Watts talks to David Schoumacher, former Space Correspondent for America’s CBS news, and to former CBS producer Mark Kramer."

      (ROT13 code )

      CUBGB: Gur perj bs Ncbyyb Guvegrra nsgre gurve erfphr (Trggl Vzntrf)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's (almost) never the instrument.

    "It's instrumentation. It must be instrumentation." said the subtitle. As a technician responsible for calibrating and troubleshooting various instruments in manufacturing, I can tell you from personal experience that, if you're getting a reading that is theoretically possible, it's probably about right. (Most instrument failures produce impossible readings, like -25 °C or 200 °C on a room temperature.) The number of times I've seen someone call for testing of a "faulty" instrument, and it turns out the readings were real, is beyond counting. Unless there is VERY strong evidence to the contrary, assume the reading is real and there's a serious problem!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's (almost) never the instrument.

      This problem originated with a heated oxygen tank that wouldn't drain its liquid contents which was worked round by boiling it off, this process itself leading to the fused thermostat where the gauge that could have revealed the consequent overheating was unable to display a measurement above 80F because that was assumed to be covered by the (failed) thermostat action.

      They were really lucky that the centre engine on the SII stage didn't fail under pogo oscillation, it only shut down because the 62g vibration made the thrust sensors indicate low thrust and the control system think that the engine had exhausted its fuel. 1 more second and the whole remaining stack would have broken up.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's (almost) never the instrument.

      "It's network. It must be network." said everyone that isn't a network guy.

      Get that all the sodding time, As a network engineer i can tell you from personal experience that 9.9999 times out of 10 its not a network problem and some issue on the source or destination system.

      Failures typically result in 100% loss, not intermittent connections or allow you to connect to systems in other subnets but not ones in the same especially when no fancy security stopping intra vlan comms is deployed. Is that route still on that second server interface?

    3. Luiz Abdala

      Re: It's (almost) never the instrument.

      My car, on a particularly hot day, wouldn't start when it was over 35C, or parked under the sun for several hours. But it cranked on a cold day or early mornings, no problems.

      A thermocouple was reading *minus* 68C. 68 degrees BELOW freezing, under the scorching sun. It told the ECU to soak the engine in gasoline, because it thought it was a cold day. It smelled like a carbureted VW Beetle. The ECU was working with faulty sensors, but it was behaving correctly.

      Instrument failures produce impossible readings, and I can verify that.

      The dealership wanted me to buy a new ECU and the entire eletronic fuel injection system again. A dedicated, attentive mechanic with the intrument reader attached to the car saved me over 500 bucks.

      By the way, that sensor was tucked under the car for 19 years without maintenance before failure. You gotta love Honda for something that can work 19 years before failing.

  9. swm Silver badge

    I was listening to the live feed from the astronauts when the problem occurred. There was a lot of switching equipment between the "A" bus and the "B" bus in an attempt to isolate the problem. Finally the command came to turn of the react on oxygen bottle #1. This is the only time I heard an astronaut get excited, "Do you want me to turn off the react to oxygen bottle #1?" "That's affirmative." Other than that the astronauts were very calm and matter of fact.

    The news commentators didn't have a clue about the seriousness of the situation until later.

  10. DugEBug
    Thumb Up

    Apollo in Real Time

    For those who want to re-live the experience, check out

    The site is incredible as it gives you the ability to experience the mission through synchronized audio and video as it unfolded. The Apollo 11 and 17 missions are available too.

    For the folks who put this website together, thank you.

    This must have taken an incredible amount of time to do, so it must have been a labor of love. Again, thank you.

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