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Apollo 13 crew Crew onboard Apollo 13 making carbon dioxide adapter.
Mishaps of the Space Age
1970: Apollo 13

En route to the moon, Apollo 13 suffered an explosion and lost its main power supply. Abandoning the mission, ground controllers in Houston then had to figure out a way to get the three astronauts, Jim Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise, back home. Remarkably, they devised a way to send the stricken craft, with the threesome aboard the lunar lander, around the moon, using the latter's gravity field to shoot the spacecraft back toward Earth.

gadget Carbon dioxide adapter on Apollo 13.

But the procedure was highly risky. With only a two-day battery supply to power their four-day trip home, the crew had to shut down all non-vital equipment, including their computer and climate control systems. While the lander contained an ample supply of oxygen, it did not have enough canisters of lithium hydroxide to remove the carbon dioxide exhaled by the crew. The main spacecraft had additional canisters, but these wouldn't fit into the lander's housing unit. In essence, the lives of Apollo 13's crew depended on finding a way to fit a square peg into a round hole.


Apollo 13 splashdown Apollo 13 splashdown
Again, Ground Control in Houston came through. Aware of the materials on board, they designed a makeshift adapter from the covers of flight-plan books, plastic bags, and duct tape, and the crew eventually returned safely to Earth.


Continue: 1971

Photos: NASA.

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