WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Jim Lovell: Apollo 13 speaks to importance of NASA teamwork

Posted April 10

Jim Lovell: Apollo 13 speaks of NASA teamwork

The seventh annual North Carolina Science Festival kicked off Thursday night with a return to the Chapel Hill campus by Captain Jim Lovell.

In a sold out event at Memorial Hall, Lovell spoke of the events of Apollo 13 bringing a different emphasis than the 1995 movie.

He talked not just of improvising equipment to remove CO2 from their crippled spacecraft, and measures to sufficiently conserve power.

The naval aviator detailed the challenge of keeping the spacecraft on a course to return home and how time spent at Morehead Planetarium studying stellar navigation helped.

Previous missions, including Apollo 8, where Lovell served as Command Module Pilot, traveled to the Moon on a free return trajectory. This safety measure places the spacecraft on a course which returns for a safe landing on Earth should anything go wrong.

Lovell spoke at length about what went wrong.

The trouble started years before when the Number 2 Liquid Oxygen (LOX) Tank was dropped by technicians at the North American Aviation plant in Downey, Ca., during manufacturing of the command service module. The tank was cleared for flight after inspection of the exterior for damage.

During a March countdown demonstration test, a dress rehearsal intended to find and fix problems before the April 11, 1970 launch date, a problem was discovered.

Ground crews had difficulty completely completing the unloading the tank turning instead to the internal heater to boil off the remaining LOX.

Instead of the 28 volts this early version of the tank was designed for, crews powered its heater with 65 volts at the launch pad.

Temperatures inside the tank rose from a normal -100F to a very abnormal 1000F.

Teflon insulation on the electrical wires and other components were damaged in the extreme heat, leading to an explosion 55 hours and 55 minutes into the launch.

Lovell described how he called upon the celestial navigation training he had received at Morehead Planetarium get the cropped ship back on course. He closed the evening by narrating the film prepared to update Congress on the mission. He was quick to credit not just the crew but all the engineers in mission control.

Michael Scott, a NASA friend working at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, recently shared his work with me during the best flight layover ever.

Scott spends his days as a flight controller at the SPARTAN (Station Power, Articulation and Thermal Control) console ensuring the International Space Station has sufficient power to support astronauts and their experiments.

As we stepped into Mission Operation Control Room 2 (MOCR2), now a National Historic Landmark, the room where Gemini, Apollo and early Space Shuttle missions were controlled, the first mission brought up wasn’t Apollo 11.

“This is the room and all those back rooms, are where we brought Apollo 13 home.” Scott beamed proudly.

Jim Lovell agreed Thursday, closing the evening telling the Chapel Hill audience, “I’m here because of the dedicated people in mission control.”

Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @rtphokie.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all