Apollo 13: 40 years ago...
When the Moon is in the seventh house,
And Jupiter aligns with Mars,
Then peace will guide the planets,
And love will steer the stars.
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius...
The familiar strains of that 5th Dimension song played on the radio frequently in 1970. Five golden voiced pop stars, talented beyond measure, had yet another hit. It was happy music, energetic music, and for me, as well as some other folks, their sound is associated with what we were doing in the space program (it still is...).
In Gene Kranz' Failure Is Not An Option, he mentioned listening to that song, and getting filled with energy and excitement as he headed to the space center for work every day...
"The song had temporarily replaced "The Stars and Stripes Forever" as my going to work music. The version sung by the group The 5th Dimension was picked up by the Apollo 13 crew and controllers as symbolic of the energy and momentum of the Apollo lunar program.
The song's signature words, "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius," symbolized the first mission of the new decade as well as the challenge and excitement of the increasingly difficult and risky lunar missions. When the Apollo 13 crew named their LM "Aquarius", the song moved to the "top of the pops" for the controllers."
It was actually the real "top of the pops" as well...the song, curiously enough, hit #1 on the Billboard charts the day after Apollo 13 launched in April 1970. It would remain #1 for the following 6 weeks...
"The Age of Aquarius"...it fit. We were prepping for Apollo 13, and stowed in SA-508 at KSC were two spacecraft, the CSM, CM-109, call sign Odyssey, and below her, in the SLA, LM-7, call sign, Aquarius.
How appropriate for that song...
It was fun.
Apollo 13 was to be the third lunar landing mission, and the start of in-depth science on the surface of the Moon. The target was the Fra Mauro highland region, a hilly region which was assumed to have been formed from ejecta generated by the massive impact that had formed the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains), the large "Sea" that appears just above center and to the left in the northern hemisphere of the Moon as seen from Earth. The Fra Mauro region was actually south of Mare Imbrium, just below the equator by a few degrees, somewhat west of the Apollo 12 landing site. It was an exciting target geologically, and an exciting mission profile.
The mission emblem of Apollo 13 said it all...
EX LUNA, SCIENTIA: From the Moon, Knowledge.
That's what it was all about. And these three men were the prime crew for the Apollo 13 mission:
James Lovell, CDR (left): Navy Captain, test pilot, now training for his 4th flight, and the most experienced NASA astronaut in the corps, having served as backup PLT for GT-4, PLT of GT-7, where he spent two weeks in space, served as backup CDR of GT-9A, and then as CDR of GT-12 in 1966. He was originally the backup CMP for Apollo 9 (with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin), and then became the prime CMP for Apollo 9 when Mike Collins was removed due to the back surgery he required for a bone spur on his spine. After that, his assignment was swapped and he wound up as CMP for the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon in 1968. Jim was then backup CDR of Apollo 11, and was slated to command Apollo 14, but again, his crew swapped assignments for Apollo 13, because the recent re-instatement of Alan Shepard to flight status (and his assignment as CDR of Apollo 13) didn't leave him enough time to train for Apollo 13.
Thus, Jim was tossed all over the place, assignment-wise, during his astronaut career, serving on what would be his 4th prime flight crew, and having served on 4 backup crews for six different missions (and backup crews were trained with prime crews to assume all duties of the prime crew if replacement became necessary, so Jim had been constantly busy on the training grind for the past 6 years).
By the end of Apollo 13, Jim Lovell would hold the record for the most time in space of any astronaut until the Skylab program took place. He would be the first man to have traveled to the Moon twice, and the only one of the three men who did so not to have landed on it...
Ken Mattingly (center), was also a Navy pilot, and was on his first space flight assignment serving as CMP.
Fred Haise (right): served as LMP for the mission of Apollo 13, and would be landing on the Moon with Lovell. Haise was a Marine Corp test pilot, who had served as backup LMP for the Apollo 8, and Apollo 11 missions up to this point.
Their backups were John Young (Gemini 4, Gemini 10, and Apollo 10) as CDR, Jack Swigert , CMP on his first assignment, and Charles Duke (who folks might remember as CAPCOM for Apollo 11's lunar landing), on his first flight crew assignment as backup LMP.
Two very experienced Commanders were leading rookie crews, and nothing was different about this group and those who preceded them on other Apollo missions...save one thing; the prime crew of Apollo 13 was the backup crew for Apollo 11, and had received essentially parallel training with Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin, so as to be able to step in and fly the full mission should such a thing have been necessary.
The Apollo 13 crew was already fully trained to execute a lunar landing mission. These guys were really primed to go. Further, their training was now more intense than before because their mission would not only attempt a landing in a new region, with precision, but they would be doing multiple, longer term EVAs designed for scientific exploration and knowledge gathering, rather than shorter forays in the general vicinity of the LM.
So, the training grind was, and had been on full blast for months, and we saw similar concentrated activities at all centers during the 1st winter of the decade of the 1970s as we'deen through most of 1968 and all of 1969.
December, 1969: Lovell and Haise on a geology field trip in Hawaii...
January 1970, EVA training at MSC, Houston...
Fred Haise, hanging in 1/6 g...
The crew engaged in water egress training...
As I indicated before, training was all inclusive. Everything involved with the mission was practiced and simulated countless times, and in places all over the planet. Water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico and at Houston's water tank, EVA simulations both at Houston and outdoors at the Kennedy Space Center, CM simulations involving Ken Mattingly solo, and the entire crew together, integrated simulations of every phase of flight with the control teams in Houston...it went on and on, day in and day out.
And all the while, on pad 39A, the launch vehicle was being tested, and prepped for launch:
January, 1970; The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl 4 over the Minnesota Vikings, a band called The Beatles was in the process of breaking up, the Viet Nam War was in full swing, and something called the My Lai Massacre would shortly occur, followed by the bombing of Cambodia, and tensions in the United States over this war were about to once again reach a fever pitch...culminating in shootings which would occur at Kent State University some months down the road..
It was a dynamic, violent, and very unpleasant time...and at NASA, well, they were in large part oblivious to the outside world, planning to return to the Moon...one of the few positive things happening around the world.
I don't think most people were paying any attention...but Aquarius was about to become a star.
Edited by MID, 22 January 2010 - 02:03 AM.