School Wide Premiere
Friday, May 18th, 2001. 


Apollo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise and me-February 2001

Student Comments

Overview Of Production

   In 1955 President Eisenhower authorized the Department of Navy to proceed with its Vanguard scientific satellite project.  This project was approved not to beat the Soviets into space, but as part of the International Geophysical Year of international cooperation to study the Earth.  Everybody assumed that the Navy would launch the world’s first artificial satellite into space.  However, America’s race to space began with the roar of a rocket launched not within the United States but instead deep in the heart of the Soviet Union at a place called Kazakhstan. In October 1957, the Soviets, using an A-model two-stage rocket, successfully launched the world's first artificial satellite called Sputnik into Earth orbit. This brilliant achievement startled the world, and the United States, caught up in the Cold War with the Russians, stepped up its own preparations to launch an artificial satellite. But a month later another Soviet satellite was launched, Sputnik 2, which carried the dog Laika into orbit.   Lagging behind the Russians, the US hoped to launch a satellite with a Vanguard launch vehicle developed by the US Navy, but the attempt failed. US President Eisenhower then directed the Army team, under Werner Von Braun, to make a launch effort. Three months later, in January 1958, a Jupiter-C launch vehicle successfully carried the 14- kilogram satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit.  However, the Soviets rained on the American parade just six months later when they launched the 1.3-ton Sputnik 3 into orbit, keeping the Russians one step ahead of the US in the race to space.

    On April 12th 1961 the Soviet Union made history yet again with the launch of Vostok 1, the first manned spacecraft. "The Earth is blue" – stated by Yuri Gagarin, became globally famous when he became the first human to travel in space. The final mission of the one-man Vostok series of spacecraft was the world's first space flight by a woman, astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, in June 1963. In 1964, the 2-3 crew Vostok spacecraft was launched and cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov undertook the first-ever spacewalk.

    While the Russians were setting a fast early pace, the United States was in the process of initiated the Mercury Project which began in 1958.  Project Mercury was the United States' first man-in-space program and welcomed seven extraordinary people to the mission.  These seven astronauts  were men that had vision and they worked feverishly to do the best that they could do.   The objectives of the program, which made six manned flights from 1961 to 1963, were specific:

  * To orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth;

  * To investigate man's ability to function in space;
* To recover both man and spacecraft safely.

    These seven astronauts knew that these objectives would not be easy and that they would be risking their lives.  Yet everyone involved in the Mercury Project knew that the United States must reset the pace with every intention to never lose the lead again to the Russians. 

    Three weeks after Gagarin's space flight, the US launched a Mercury spacecraft carrying Alan Shepard on a ballistic trajectory flight.  Shortly after this achievement,  Gus Grissom followed on a similar suborbital mission, and in February 1962 John Glenn made the first US orbital flight, making three orbits of the Earth.  In all six spacecraft were launched and each had the number 7 included in its name. This was a gesture to the solidarity and friendship of the seven astronauts who participated in the Mercury Project missions. These seven astronauts looked toward the heavens, and, even though they felt that the heavens were so far away, they risked all to light up the way!

       From April 1964 to November 1966, the second leg of the space race began.  The Gemini program successfully prepared the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to send an astronaut to the moon for the upcoming Apollo program. Gemini included 12 missions: 2 unpiloted (1 and 2) and 10 piloted (3 through 12); all were launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

   The Mission Control Center (MCC) based in Houston, Texas, was staffed with flight controllers and support personnel who specialized in every aspect of a Gemini mission, including spacecraft systems, flight operations, flight procedures, support systems such as communications and space suits, and science experiments.

Gemini's specific objectives were to:

-Rendezvous and dock with a second orbiting vehicle
-Learn how to keep astronauts and equipment in space for up to two weeks
-Develop and test controlled reentry into the earth's atmosphere and precision landing in the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean
 -Enable astronauts to leave the spacecraft while in space.

The Gemini program accomplished all of the goals NASA had set for it.

    During the ten-piloted Gemini missions 52 supplemental space experiments were performed which demonstrated the value of space photography in the fields of geology, oceanography and weather. Gemini photos were the first images that indicated the fragility of the earth's resources and may be Gemini's most lasting legacy.

    With the accomplishment of each goal, we gained on the Russians in our quest to beat them to the moon and win the space race.   The Mercury and the Gemini programs proved the effectiveness of the “rocket-man” to carry out and complete the objectives set out during each mission.

      The Gemini Program that brought us up to speed with the Russians was phased out with the splashing down of Gemini 12 in 1966.  On the horizon loomed the dawn of a new program that was conducted between May 1961 and December 1972 by NASA.  The American manned lunar-space program designed to land an astronaut on the moon and return him safely to earth, as well as to overtake the Soviet Union in the race to dominate space exploration was titled the Apollo Program.

      On January 27, 1967, the launch crew and flight crew of the first manned Apollo mission was conducting a simulated countdown to test the operations and compatibility of the (CSM) Command and service module and the launch vehicle prior to their scheduled launch the following month.

      At about 6:30 PM, after over five hours of delays and problems, a spark inside the spacecraft ignited flammable material and instantly engulfed the closed compartment in flames. By the time the hatch was pried away more than five minutes later, the crew of Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee had died from asphyxiation.

    As a result of the fire, many changes were made to the design, manufacturing, test, and checkout procedures of the vehicles and the management of the entire Apollo program. Many of these changes were tested in the unpiloted Apollo missions 4, 5, and 6.

      On October 11th, 1968, the Apollo Program reentered the race to space as the crew of Apollo 7 practiced maneuvers that would be used in a lunar mission. Apollo 7 was the first manned earth orbit flight test of the CSM. This ten-day mission was launched on October 11, 1968.

        In December of the same year, Apollo 8 became the first manned mission to achieve lunar orbit. The crew of this six-day mission, Frank Borman, James Lovell and William  Anders, conducted a complete test of the CSM flight profile for lunar missions.

     Apollo 9 was the first flight test of the complete lunar landing mission and the first Apollo spacecraft to be named, Gumdrop, the (CSM), and Spider the lunar module or (LM).  Apollo 9 remained in the earth's orbit as the crew simulated a lunar landing.  The crew also practiced backup safety maneuvers, including a procedure in which astronauts used the LM as a lifeboat in case the command module was rendered inoperable or uninhabitable. This procedure was subsequently used to recover Apollo 13.

      On May 18, 1969 Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for a lunar landing mission and was conducted in lunar orbit, but it excluded the actual landing. The spacecraft, called Charlie Brown carried snoopy, the LM and spent over two days and 31 revolutions in lunar orbit. This mission paved the way for….

      Apollo 11 , the first lunar-landing mission that established a scientific station to collect lunar rocks and soil.   Launched on July 16, 1969, the crew of Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins landed the eagle (LM) on the surface of the moon.  The United States had won the race to space and the world was its witness as these historic words were spoken….

       Apollo 12 was the second lunar landing mission and the first mission to make a pinpoint landing on the moon. Launched on November 14, 1969, the crew of Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon, Jr., and Alan Bean flew the spacecraft Yankee Clipper (CSM) and Intrepid (LM). The crew inspected the Surveyor 3 lunar probe and collected lunar rocks and soil. The second mission to the moon was another huge success.  

      The United States continued to leap over the many hurdles that they found in their way all the while increasing their lead over the Soviets who were now no where in sight.  However, on April 11, 1970, the second largest hurdle to date was standing in NASA’s way!

      Apollo 13 was launched on April 11, 1970, as the third planned lunar landing mission. The crew of James Lovell, Jr., John Swigert, and Fred Haise, flew the spacecraft Odyssey (CSM) and Aquarius (LM). At five and a half minutes after liftoff, Swigert, Haise, and Lovell felt a little vibration. Then the center engine of the S-II stage shut down two minutes early. This caused the remaining four engines to burn 34 seconds longer than planned, and the S-IVB third stage had to burn nine seconds longer to put Apollo 13 in orbit. Days before the mission, backup LM pilot Charlie Duke inadvertently exposed the crew to German measles. Command module pilot, Ken Mattingly, turned out to have no immunity to measles and was replaced by backup command module pilot Jack Swigert.

    The first two days the crew ran into a couple of minor surprises, but generally Apollo 13 was looking like the smoothest flight of the program. At 46 hours 43 minutes Joe Kerwin, the CapCom on duty, said, "The spacecraft is in real good shape as far as we are concerned. We're bored to tears down here." It was the last time anyone would mention boredom for a long time.  At 55 hours 46 minutes into the mission and as the crew finished a 49-minute TV broadcast showing how comfortably they lived and worked in weightlessness, Lovell stated: "This is the crew of Apollo 13 wishing everybody there a nice evening, and we're just about ready to close out our inspection of Aquarius and get back for a pleasant evening in Odyssey - Good night."  With this mission control ask the astronauts to perform a few house cleaning duties one of which was to stir the oxygen tanks.  Upon doing this the fateful words from Odyssey reached mission control and the world.

      Two days after launch, as Apollo 13 approached the moon to begin lunar operations, an explosion occurred that caused the service module of the CSM to lose its oxygen, electrical power, and other systems, including its capability to perform an abort maneuver for a direct return to the earth. The crew quickly moved to the LM, which became their lifeboat in space. All of the systems in the command module of the CSM, which remained functional, were deactivated to preserve its capability to reenter the atmosphere upon return to the earth. The LM had no heat shield and therefore could not be used for earth reentry.

     At the time of the explosion, the return time to the earth was over four days. Because the LM did not have enough oxygen or water for this length of time, it became necessary to use the LM lunar landing engine for a major propulsive maneuver in space to change the spacecraft's path and speed its return to the earth. Overcoming numerous life-threatening problems, including near freezing temperatures and excess carbon dioxide which required the ingenuity of engineers on Earth to create a filter, was at times overwhelming for not only the astronauts but also for family members who waited faithfully for their return.

        In its first five years, the earliest space-shuttle missions made significant contributions to space exploration.  Beginning with the first orbital flight tests of the Columbia orbiter, the United States entered its newest forerunner in space exploration. The Space Shuttle, a spacecraft designed for transporting humans and cargo to and from orbit around Earth was developed by NASA in the 1970s to serve as a reusable rocket and spacecraft. This objective differed significantly from that of previous space programs in which the launch and space vehicles could be used only once. After ten years of preparation, the first space shuttle, Columbia, was launched on April 12, 1981. The mission was a huge success and catapulted the US into the space race lead for good.  In April of 1983, the second orbiter named Challenger was launched and in November of 1983, the first flight of Spacelab, with 71 scientific experiments from the United States and Europe lifted off and orbited the Earth. With each mission came new scientific data and a new understanding of space exploration.   In April of 1984 the Solar Maximum Satellite, which began to have technical complications shortly after being placed in orbit, was repaired in space by the Shuttle crew.  Seven months later in November, two satellites, Palapa and Weststar, were retrieved from orbit and brought back to Earth to be repaired.  And in August of 1985, the first manually assisted launch of a satellite from space (Syncon IV-3) was successful after the retrieval and repair in orbit of the satellite Leasat. Communication opportunities skyrocketed, (no pun intended) and the US found itself in the driver’s seat of new technological advancements.   In its first five years, the Shuttle fleet consisted of Columbia, Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis.  Despite certain setbacks associated with launch processing system failures, bad weather and other technical difficulties, the shuttle fleet successfully completed 24 launches.  The sky was no longer the limit as 24 successful missions paved the way for mission 51-L.   On January 28th, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger began its upward journey to the heavens. 

     Since the Challenger accident in 1986, over 50 shuttle missions have been completed with no serious mishaps.  The most notable of these are the scientific missions that launched these exploratory spacecraft:  Magellan (launched May 1989), the probe designed for radar mapping of the planet Venus; Galileo (launched October 1989), the unmanned spacecraft that reached Jupiter in December 1995; Ulysses (launched October 1990), a probe designed for study of the Sun; and the Hubble Space Telescope (launched April 1990), a high-powered telescope designed to make astronomical observations from space, away from the interference of Earth's atmosphere.

    In July 1995 competition became cooperation as the Shuttle Atlantis linked up with the Russian space station Mir.  This mission was the first of nine shuttle/Mir linkups between 1995 and 1998.  These flights were the precursors toward assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) which began construction in orbit in late 1998.  The first docking with MIR was perhaps the most significant event in the history of space flight since the symbolic joining of Apollo and the Soyuz spacecraft 20 years earlier.  It signaled a new age of cooperation in space, where exploration of the universe would be measured more in terms of what a coalition of nations had accomplished rather than what a single nation had achieved. 

    Beginning in late 1998, the majority of the space shuttle missions were devoted to the construction of the new ISS. After the ISS is completed (completion is scheduled for 2003), the shuttle will travel to the new space station to exchange crews, deliver new experiments, and return completed experiments and used materials to the earth.

      NASA plans to retire the space shuttle in 2012!

Informative Links:

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center

Space Center Houston

John F. Kennedy Space Center


Shuttle Challenger Memorial

Shuttle Columbia Memorial