Illustration for article titled This day in 1970: Apollo 13 Returns Home

39 years ago today, the world let loose a collective sigh of relief, as the Apollo 13 Odyssey Command Module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. This followed a tense week, as the world watched after an on-board explosion nearly cost the lives of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise on the way to the moon.


Launched on April 11th, 1970, the Apollo 13 mission was the third crewed mission to the moon, heading to the Fra Mauro highlands, a cratered region of the Moon, which attracted the attention of scientists when seismomiteres left behind by Apollo 12 detected activity in the region.

Apollo 13, however, never made it to the lunar surface, as a mechanical malfunction caused an onboard explosion, crippling the command module. This wasn't the first problem on the mission, however, as one of the main engines shut off prematurely, causing the other boosters to fire longer to compensate. On April 13th, the #2 Oxygen tank exploded when a wire shorted out, losing oxygen that was needed by the crew and fuel cells. In the days after the explosion, Mission control worked to bring the spacecraft and crew around the moon, while also improvising a solution to the rising CO2 buildup in the ship.


On April 17th, the crew jettisoned the Landing Module, then Aquarius, the service module, and noted that an entire panel had been blown off the side of the craft. Shortly thereafter, the ship reentered the atmosphere, where they were recovered by USS Iwo Jimi in the Pacific Ocean.

The next Apollo mission, Apollo 14, was commanded by Alan Shepherd, the first American in space, and took over Apollo 13's expected mission to the Fra Mauro highlands.

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