Today in History – April 11, 1970 - Apollo 13 was launched, but nearly ended in tragedy when there was a fire and an explosion on board that substantially damaged one side of the spacecraft. Saved by quick thinking, teamwork, and training of the astronauts and ground command allowed the astronauts were able to return to earth safely. Alas, they were not able to carry out their lunar landing mission.
The Apollo 13 movie directed by Ron Howard (stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan) won several Oscar awards. Clips from this movie could be used along side a case study of the Apollo 13 incident as an example of multiple disciplinary teamwork under pressure. The NASA movie clip (click on image on the right above) highlights their archive of the incident: “Apollo 13: Houston, We’ve Got A Problem,” featuring the critical period when the mission was just to get the crew home safely.
Earlier, the Apollo 12 mission had almost failed at launch due to a leaking hydrogen tank; fortunately launch crew managed to change it before takeoff. The failure of the television camera was caused by Alan Bean, who had accidentally pointed it directly at the Sun causing the optics to burn out. The two astronauts spent over seven hours on the lunar surface and successfully retrieved parts of the Surveyor lander and returned it to Earth.
A total of eight Apollo astronauts travelled to the moon in five more Apollo missions with the final manned lunar landing of the Apollo 17 mission accomplished in December 1972. NASA maintains extensive online resources associated with the Apollo missions, including logs of the flight and lunar surface journals of the astronauts.
The high cost of the Apollo manned space exploration program led NASA to focus more on unmanned flights in future years. Much to the surprise of the public, President Bush in January 2004 announced a new program to send American astronauts to the Moon by 2020 as the launching point for missions to Mars and further into space. It is not clear whether NASA will be able to stay the course on this program with the changeover in NASA adminstration and presidential elections.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on the Apollo mission and space exploration. For related educational resources, visit the Aerospace Engineering Education Community or the Teamwork Interdisciplinary Engineering Education Community sites.