13 April 1970: At 10:07:53 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (mission elapsed time 55:54:53), while Apollo 13 and its crew, James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise, were approximately 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) from Earth enroute to a landing at the Fra Mauro Highlands on The Moon, an internal explosion destroyed the Number 2 oxygen tank¹ in the spacecraft’s Service Module. The Number 1 tank was also damaged. Two of three fuel cells that supplied electrical power to the spacecraft failed.
Jack Swigert radioed Mission Control: “I believe we’ve had a problem here.” ²
Mission Control: “This is Houston. Say again, please.”
Jim Lovell: “Houston, we’ve had a problem. Main B Bus undervolt.”
With oxygen supplies depleted and power failing, the lunar landing mission had to be aborted, and the three-man crew evacuated the Command Module and took shelter in the Lunar Module.
This was a life-threatening event.
The story of Apollo 13 and its crew and their journey home is well known. The 1995 Ron Howard/Universal Pictures film, “Apollo 13,” takes some artistic license, but is generally accurate and realistic.
Five years before Apollo 13 was launched, an engineering decision had been made to increase the spacecraft electrical system from 28 volts to 65 volts. This required that every electrical component on the vehicle had to be changed to accommodate the increased power. The after-accident investigation found that the team that designed the cooling fans for the oxygen tanks was never informed of the change.
During the actual flight, the wiring inside the tank heated to approximately 1,000 °F. (538 °C.), and in the pressurized pure oxygen, the insulation caught fire. The tank, originally installed on Apollo 10, had been dropped when it was removed for modification. It was repaired and later used on Apollo 13, however, it had been weakened by the damage. The extreme pressure caused by the heat of the burning electrical wiring in the containment caused the tank to rupture.
¹ Serial number 10024X-TA0009
² The official mission transcript attributes this statement to Jim Lovell, however, in Lovell’s recollection, it was made by Swigert.
11 April 1970: At 2:13:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Apollo 13 was launched from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This mission was planned to be the third manned lunar landing. The destination was the Fra Mauro Highlands. In command was Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., United States Navy. The Command Module Pilot was John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr. (who was originally scheduled as the backup CSM pilot, but had replaced Lieutenant Commander T. Kenneth Mattingly II, USN, just three days before launch). and the Lunar Module Pilot was Fred W. Haise, Jr., A NASA astronaut (formerly a U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, test pilot and instructor).
The crew change had been made because it was believed that Ken Mattingly had been exposed to measles and NASA administrators did not want to risk that he might become ill during the flight.
The F-1 engines of the S-IC first stage shut down at 2 minutes, 43.6 seconds. After being jettisoned, the first stage continued on a ballistic trajectory and fell into the Atlantic Ocean at 000:09:52.64, 355.3 nautical miles (408.9 statute miles/658.0 kilometers) from the launch site.
At T + 000:05:30.64, while accelerating toward Earth orbit, the center J-2 engine on the Saturn S-II second stage shut down 2 minutes, 12.36 seconds early, which required the other four engines to increase their burn by 34.53 seconds, and the S-IVB third stage engine had to burn 9 seconds seconds longer than planned to achieve the necessary velocity for orbital insertion. The second stage traveled 2,452.6 nautical miles (2,822.4 statute miles/4,542.2 kilometers) before hitting the Atlantic’s surface at T + 20 minutes, 58.1 seconds.
Following the Trans Lunar Injection maneuver, Apollo 13’s S-IVB third stage was intentionally crashed into the lunar surface. The impact took place at 00:09:41 UTC, 15 April. The stage was traveling at 5,600 miles per hour (9,012 kilometers per hour). The energy at impact was equivalent to the explosion 7.7 tons of TNT.
The Apollo 13 mission did not go as planned. An explosion inside the service module was a very near disaster, and the lunar landing had to be aborted. Returning the three astronauts safely to Earth became the primary task.
The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet (110.642 meters) tall. The first and second stages were 33 feet (10.058 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms). It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.
The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level. These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.
The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.
The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.
Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.
9 November 1962: Flight 74 of the X-15 Program was the Number Two aircraft’s 31st flight. X-15 56-6671 was carried aloft by Balls 8, the Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress, 53-008, for launch over Mud Lake, Nevada. NASA test pilot John Barron (“Jack”) McKay was to take the rocketplane to 125,000 feet at Mach 5.5 to investigate the stability and handling of the X-15 with the lower half of the ventral fin removed, and to investigate aerodynamic boundary layer phenomena.
The B-52 mothership dropped Jack McKay and the X-15 right on schedule at 10:23:07.0 a.m., local time, from an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters) and speed of approximately 450 knots (833 kilometers per hour). McKay advanced the throttle to ignite the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 rocket engine. It fired immediately but when McKay advanced the throttle for the full 57,000 pounds of thrust, the engine remained at just 30%.
The X-15 could have flown back to Edwards Air Force Base, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the south, but with the engine not responding to the throttle, it was uncertain that it would continue running. The decision was made to make an emergency landing at Mud Lake.
Having reached a peak altitude of 53,950 feet (16,444 meters) and Mach 1.49 (1,109 miles per hour/1,785 kilometers per hour), Jack McKay continued to circle the lake burning off propellants as he lost altitude. The engine was shut down at 70.5 seconds. McKay positioned the aircraft for landing as he continued to dump unused propellant and liquid oxygen, but a considerable amount remained on board.
As he neared touchdown, he tried to lower the flaps but they did not deploy. The X-15 touched down on the dry lake bed at 296 miles per hour (476.4 kilometers per hour), 66 miles per hour (106 kilometers per hour) faster than normal.
Duration of the flight from air launch to touchdown was 6 minutes, 31.1 seconds.
The high speed and extra weight caused the X-15’s rear skids to hit harder than normal. When the nose wheels hit, a rebound effect placed even higher loads on the rear struts. At the same time, with the elevators in an extreme nose-up position, the higher aerodynamic loads pushed the skids deeper into the lake bed. This higher loading caused the left rear strut to collapse. The X-15 rolled to the left and the left elevator dug into the lake bed. This caused the aircraft to start sliding to the left. Jack McKay jettisoned the canopy and as the right wing tip dug into the surface, the X-15 flipped over and came to rest upside down.
McKay was seriously injured. He was trapped in the upside down X-15 and was in danger from the vapors of the ammonia propellants and liquid oxygen. An H-21 rescue helicopter hovered overhead to blow the vapor away.
Prior to the flight, an Air Force C-130 had brought a fire engine and crew to standby at Mud Lake, returned to Edwards and picked up a second fire engine and its crew, then remained airborne should an emergency landing be made at another intermediate dry lake.
These propositioned emergency assets were able to rescue McKay and to transport him to the hospital back at Edwards.
McKay eventually recovered sufficiently to return to flight status, but ultimately his injuries forced him to retire.
The Number Two X-15 was severely damaged. It was taken back to North American and was rebuilt into the X-15A-2, intended to reach speeds up to Mach 8. It would be more than a year and a half before it flew again.
24 June 1982: British Airways Flight 9, a Boeing 747-236B, G-BDXH, City of Edinburgh, enroute from London, England, to Aukland, New Zealand, was cruising at 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) with 248 passengers and 15 crewmembers on board. The airliner was under the command of Captain Eric H. J. Moody, with Senior First Officer Roger Greaves and Senior Flight Engineer Barry Townley-Freeman on the flight deck. It operated with the call sign, “Speedbird 9.”
At 10:42 p.m., local time (13:42 UTC), approximately 110 miles (188 kilometers) south of Jakarta, Indonesia, the airliner’s number four engine began surging and then flamed out. A minute later engine number two also surged and flamed out. Then, simultaneously, engines one and three failed as well.
Volcanic dust from erupting Mount Gallanggung, a 7,113 foot (2,168 meters) stratovolcano located in West Java, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Bandung, had been ingested by the engines and melted inside the combustion chambers, cutting off the airflow and shutting each of them down. The 747 had a glide ratio of 15:1. The flight crew turned Speedbird 9 toward Jakarta while they went through emergency procedures.
Captain Eric Moody made the following announcement to the passengers:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
At 13,500 feet (4,115 meters), the flight crew was finally able to get one engine restarted and soon after, a second. Eventually all four engines were running and the 747 began to regain altitude. The Number Two engine again began to surge so the crew shut it down and the 747 remained at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters).
On approach to Jakarta, though good visibility was reported, the flight crew could barely see the airport lights. It was later determined that the windshield was completely sandblasted by the volcanic dust. Speedbird 9 safely landed with no injuries. Captain Moody later said, “The airplane seemed to kiss the earth and we were on the ground safely.”
G-BDXG was repaired and flown back to London, where it underwent further, more extensive repairs.
Captain Moody and Senior Cabin Services Officer Graham Skinner were awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. Guinness Book of Records lists Flight 9 as the longest glide of any aircraft not designed for gliding.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF
THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD
ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.I
11th June, 1983
The QUEEN has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of the Celebration of Her Majesty’s Birthday, to approve the award of The Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air:
The Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air
Eric Henry John MOODY, Captain, British Airways.
Graham SKINNER, Cabin Services Officer, British Airways.
—Supplement to the London Gazette, Supplement 49375, Saturday, 11th June 1983, at Page B28
Captain Moody served with British Airways for 32 years, retiring in 1996 with over 17,000 flight hours.
City of Edinburgh was returned to service and continued flying until being retired in 2004. It was scrapped at Bournemouth Airport, Dorset, England, in 2009.