Now You Can Join Apollo 13's Astronauts in Real Time

A simulation on overcoming the worst of times, from a space accident 50 years ago
The Apollo 13 crew before launch
The Apollo 13 crew before launch

"Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here&rdquo.

Sounds a bit off You&rsquore probably more familiar with the phrase Tom Hanks used in 1995 space drama Apollo 13.

Hanks played Jack Swigert, the command module pilot of Apollo 13, who along with Fred Haise and Captain James Lovell, was one of three astronauts on NASA's third mission to the moon.

These were Swigert&rsquos original words when he first heard a &lsquolarge bang&rsquo aboard the spacecraft. They were echoed by Lovell moments later. The crew soon realised that their oxygen tanks had malfunctioned, which starved two fuel cells. Mission control forbade them from entering lunar orbit unless all cells were operational, and with debris surrounding the spacecraft, they couldn&rsquot use the stars for navigation.  

In what can only be called the most careful case of jugaad, the Kennedy Space Center guided them on using the lunar lander (which had enough oxygen) to return home. If the accident had happened on the original return journey, when the lander was already abandoned, the astronauts would have certainly died. 

You can now relive Apollo 13&rsquos journey to the moon and their critical, lifesaving innovations with a new website that was launched this year. Apollo 13 in Real Time is a mission experience portal designed by Ben Feist, a NASA contractor, who spent eight months gathering historical material surrounding the flight. And Feist&rsquos been pretty thorough.

The website has captured around 90 per cent of the documents and footage from the mission, including transcripts, pictures of the Earth and from inside the command module, and 7,200 hours of audio recordings from mission control. Just to put it in perspective, that&rsquos 300 days of space talk. 

Timing is everything here, and the site&rsquos been curated to make you feel like you are one of the astronauts working through the crisis. The photos and videos appear as they were taken&mdashEarth as a distant crescent, the Moon&rsquos craters close enough to touch&mdashand chat logs show every bit of human warmth amid the frigidity of space 

0464436 - Lovell > It might be interesting that just after we went to sleep last night we had a Master Alarm and it really scared us. And we were all over the cockpit like a wet noodle.

0464445 - Kerwin > (Laughter) Sorry, it wasn't something more significant. I've also got a procedure for you on that H2 tank simple thing after you get done stirring up the cryos.

0464459 - Lovell > Okay.

0464655 (Music)

0464710 - Kerwin > That was beautiful. What was it

0464716 - Lovell > A little of 'With Their Eyes on the Stars' to wake up to.

0464724 - Kerwin > Sounds like all the comforts of home. Have you guys got a flower on your breakfast table

0464733 - Lovell > Yes. Jack

When you first enter the site, there&rsquos an option to watch the launch (&lsquoT-minus 1m&rsquo) or directly join the crew&rsquos progress according to your timezone and how it would correspond to their time of day in 1970.

A navigation bar at the top of the website splits the experience into &lsquoCountdown&rsquo, &lsquoOn the Way to the Moon&rsquo, &lsquoProblem&rsquo, &lsquoReturning to Earth&rsquo and &lsquoRecovery&rsquo, with game changing moments marked as and when the astronauts discovered them. Milestones and commentary urgently take you through every step of the accident, and a declining graph shows the crippling levels of oxygen.

We spent a solid three hours studying the photos taken on board and the crew&rsquos audio logs with mission control. As you can imagine, there was immense hardship on the journey back home&mdashthree men fit into a lander for two, and suffered through limited power, a freezing cabin, water shortages and the chance of carbon dioxide poisoning, until safely splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. Around 40 million Americans watched the re-entry, their interest in the space programme renewed, albeit a bit cruelly. 

Poignant yet inspiring, Apollo 13&rsquos perseverance has much to teach us about working through adversity and cramped quarters. The mission anniversary is coming up on April 11, when we&rsquoll still be under a lockdown. Here&rsquos to a nice bit of positive escapism

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