Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Braver than I am - or you are

Today is the anniversary of Apollo 13 running into trouble. That was forty years ago, in April 1970. On the way to the moon, a fault in the electrical system caused one of the Service Module's oxygen tanks to rupture. The crew had to abandon the Command Module and live in the Lunar Module during its completely out-of-spec trip back to Earth.

Heat, water and scrubbers for carbon dioxide were in critically short supply. But these men, who were half way to another planet, managed to make do for a journey back to Earth. Their computer system was about the level of one of today's BlackBerrys. To supplement its output, they took manual readings of their position using navigator's instruments from the 1700s as their course changed (knocked off course by the venting oxygen tank) and calculated their trajectory on paper. Against all odds, they made it back to a safe landing.

I can remember watching this with my heart in my mouth. I knew they could get back to Earth - it's pretty big - but I didn't think they'd get the trajectory right and splash down without burning up. They did, though.

The quote that came out of all that was, "Houston, we have a problem."

I love manned space exploration. I know many others disagree, since robots can do much more and see much more without requiring life support. But I want to go, and I want others to go and tell me what it's like. And I salute heroes like the crew of Apollo 13.


KaliDurga said...

It is amazing, isn't it, that they accomplished their return through means that we today would consider archaic and primitive. Yet another example of how "progress" overshadows the basic methods upon which it's based.

I'm one of those who has mixed feelings about space travel, but there's no way anyone could not admire the men who lived through this particular mission.

Peromyscus said...

Every time I see a rabbit run across the road, I see a kindred spirit. He's most likely to end up under a car, but at least he's got the instinct to head for new territories. We should be out there already, but it looks like it'll take almost a hundred years after Russia and the US originally led the way.

KaliDurga said...

My issue has more to do with the money involved. Yes, there's a tremendous amount that we could learn from space travel, but what guarantee is there that it will improve any of the issues that plague society? Would it be more responsible to spend that money on, say, basic education and health care than on something as nebulous (no pun intended) as the study of outer space?

I'm certainly not claiming to have any concrete answers to those questions, but I can't help but wonder when I read about this subject.


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