NORMAN — When the crew of the Apollo 13 moon mission returned safely to Earth in 1970, it was the result of a series of minor miracles, crew member Fred Haise told a crowd at the University of Oklahoma on Wednesday.
But it was also the result of countless hours of training preparation, the design of the ship, and the efforts of the three-man crew and the people who staffed the Mission Control Center at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Haise said.
“It ... was based on sound process and methodology,” Haise said.
Classified as a “successful failure,” the Apollo 13 mission was NASA's third lunar landing attempt. It was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded, leading to a number of system failures. The accident left NASA officials with the task of keeping the crew alive and getting ship safely back to Earth.
Haise's presentation at OU fell on the 43rd anniversary of the day the ship splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near American Samoa. Decades later, the anniversaries of key dates from the mission are still special, Haise said — he always speaks with mission commander Jim Lovell on what the two call “Boom Day,” or the anniversary of the day the ship's oxygen tank blew.
For weeks before the launch, the crew, along with the alternate crew members, went through a series of flight scenarios in simulators. In each of the scenarios, the crew would experience a different set of malfunctions and failures, and would need to find a solution to those problems.
In any given day, Haise said, the crew might go through launch simulations for half a day, then stop and go through each failure and discuss how to deal with them.
Haise was a backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 missions. He underwent similar training before those launches, even though he didn't participate in the missions. During the training for those missions, crews still occasionally encountered scenarios for which there wasn't a good solution.
In those cases, he said, crews would need to sit down after the simulations and come up with a way to handle the scenarios.
When it came time for the Apollo 13 launch, the crew and Mission Control had been prepared well enough to handle nearly any situation that arose, Haise said.
“You feel reasonably confident in yourself,” he said.
During his speech, Haise marveled at the progress technology has made since the Apollo missions. At the time, Mission Control used a bank of IBM computers that ran on whirring disks of magnetic tape. In the ship's command module and lunar module, the crew used similar equipment, which was some of the most sophisticated technology available at the time.
“We basically went to the moon with that machine that had a total memory of about one-tenth of a megabyte,” he told the crowd. “You've all got more memory on your phones than Mission Control had.”
We basically went to the moon with that machine that had a total memory of about one-tenth of a megabyte. You've all got more memory on your phones than Mission Control had.”