The mission was launched on April 11, 1970. On their way to the Moon disaster struck. The crew was approximately 320,000 km from Earth when an explosion occurred on board. Swigert contacted Mission Control in Houston with the now famous words “Houston, we have a problem.”
The damage was so bad that the trip to the moon was now impossible and the crew were now faced with the extremely difficult task of travelling back home to earth with very little power. They turned off anything that was not essential on board including heating.
What could have been a disaster, however, was instead to become one of NASA’s greatest achievements. On the ground in Houston NASA staff worked to figure out a solution to the problems on Apollo 13. They finally came up with a plan.
Firstly Apollo 13 had to travel around the moon passing by the place where they had hoped to land. While they travelled around the far side of the Moon they lost contact with Mission Control. Around the world millions of people watched their televisions waiting for word. The crew had to turn off almost everything on the Apollo spacecraft in order to conserve power. This made contact with Mission Control back on Earth difficult.
Finally the crew re-appeared and began the journey back to Earth. With the power turned down the crew had to endure freezing conditions. They also had to worry about low levels of oxygen.
When they re-entered Earth’s atmosphere they again lost contact with Houston but after a few minutes of silence Mission Control finally heard from them. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and were picked up by an aircraft carrier.
The crew returned safely to Earth on April 17. NASA called the mission a “successful failure.”