Mark 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 launch by reliving events in real time

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13, one of the most dramatic missions in the history of space flight. Launched from the Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970, the mission was intended to carry three astronauts to the moon. But two days into the mission, an oxygen tank on board the spacecraft failed and caused an explosion, venting much of the available oxygen into space. The world watched as mission control scrambled to find a way to extend the small amount of available oxygen to keep the astronauts alive for four days until the craft was able to splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean.

The mission has become renowned as “a successful failure” as even though it went terribly wrong, the crew were saved, and it renewed the public’s interest in space exploration with tens of millions of people watching the splashdown.

“Our goal 50 years ago was to save our valiant crew after sending them around the moon and return them safely to Earth,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Our goal now is to return to the moon to stay, in a sustainable way. We are working hard to ensure that we don’t need to respond to this kind of emergency in Artemis, but to be ready to respond to any problems we don’t anticipate.”

The crewmembers of the Apollo 13 mission
The crewmembers of the Apollo 13 mission step aboard the USS Iwo Jima, prime recovery ship for the mission, following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean. Exiting the helicopter that made the pick-up some four miles from the Iwo Jima are (from left) Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot; James A. Lovell Jr., commander; and John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot. The crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft splashed down at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970. NASA

In commemoration of the mission’s launch, NASA has created the Apollo 13 in Real Time website, where visitors can experience the launch as it happened, based on historical materials and timed exactly as it occurred fifty years ago. The materials include footage of mission control, the film shot by the astronauts, and television broadcasts from the time, along with photographs and voice recordings, all synced up to their correct place in the timeline.

“This project includes newly digitized and restored mission control audio,” the website says. “The last tapes of these recordings were discovered in the National Archives fall of 2019 and were digitized in February, 2020 and contain the time surrounding the onboard explosion. These recordings haven’t been heard since the accident investigation in 1970.”

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