Apollo 13: 40 years on

This weekend will mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.  Anniversaries are always good opportunities for attracting attention and so hopefully we will all be discussing the wonders of space exploration over coffee this weekend.

One natural question over the years has been, “But what if it hadn’t worked?” The long-standing theory that the capsule with the frozen bodies of the astronauts would have floated off into space as an everlasting monument to the space mission has now been shown to be untrue.

An  article in the Times newspaper this weekend reports how a team of experts in Philadelphia have carried out computer simulations to show that in fact – much less dramatically – the spacecraft and the (dead) astronauts would have been pulled in into the earth’s atmosphere by the moons gravity and incinerated after only 5 weeks.

There is little doubt though that the rescue of the Apollo 13 is one of NASAs finest moments and something to be wondered at still. Perhaps Mr Obama may be regretting cutting the manned space programme as he watches the anniversary coverage. (Or maybe not, the man has some tough decisions to make!).

If, like me, you know most of what you know about Apollo 13 form the film (released 1995 and starring Tom Hanks if you missed it), you may be surprised to know that those immortal words,  “Houston, we have a problem” were misquoted by Mr Hanks, and were in fact “Houston, we’ve had a problem”. Not quite the same somehow…

And incidentally there are some amazing photos on the NASA site of the current mission’s space walks.

Esther Crooks

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