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Article 1: Topic – Apollo

13

The number 13 holds special significance to many cultures, (1) conventionally associated with bad luck. When the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday, the day takes on the same associations; most treat “Friday the 13th” as a (2) cursed day, though a few are skeptical of its (3) potency.

In the spring of 1970 however, Americans were taking interest in another 13: space shuttle Apollo 13. It wasn’t the mission to the moon that had people talking — the Vietnam war was making more headlines — but the mission’s (4) controversial title. Humanity’s greatest scientific endeavor was coming face-to-face with one of its most enduring superstitions.

NASA[1] scoed at the idea that Apollo

13 was a cursed mission, as did the crew’s

commander Jim Lovell. For Lovell, along with the mission’s co-pilots Ken Mattingly and Fred Haise, the most interesting part of the mission was its scientific return. Apollo 13 was supposed to study the Fra Mauro highlands, an area previously unvisited and

Lovell became the commander of Apollo

13 by chance. He, Mattingly, and Haise

were scheduled to fly Apollo 14 when Apollo 13 commander Alan Shepard was forced out of the mission by a medical problem. Always unwilling to break up a crew if it could be avoided, NASA switched flight assignments between the crews of 13 and 14. Lovell had no (5) misgiving about the change. He orbited around the moon on Apollo 8 and was thrilled at the prospect of returning to walk on its surface. Whether it was on Apollo 13 or Apollo 14 was irrelevant. His wife Marilyn, on the other hand, wasn’t thrilled with the assignment. Though she wasn’t ordinarily superstitious, she had a bad feeling about this flight. Marilyn couldn’t help looking at the numbers. Her husband had been in space three times including the trip to the moon. Another mission seemed to be (6) tempting fate.

To give the new Apollo 13 prime crew more time to train, the launch was delayed from March 12 to April 11. Numerologists had a(7) field day. The mission’s launch date written numerically was 4-11-70; add the digits to get 13. To

reach its landing site on the moon, Apollo

13 would launch at 1:13 pm Houston time,

or 13:13 on a 24-hour military clock. From there, the crew would enter the moon’s gravitational pull on April 13. Luckily, it wasn’t a Friday. April 13 was a Monday that year.

Just days before launch, things started going wrong with Apollo 13 when Haise’s backup Charlie Duke got the measles. Lovell and Haise were immune, but Mattingly wasn’t. Lovell had no choice but to swap out Mattingly for his backup CMP Jack Swigert (who was immune to measles). The new set-up spent the normal period of rest and relaxation before launch in simulators going through mission phases to make sure Swigert was caught up. His ability was never in question — his intimate knowledge of the command module came from his time writing computer’s malfunction procedures. Rather, the crew needed time to bond and trust one another. Just 48 hours before launch, Swigert was proclaimed fit to fly.

On April 11, Apollo 13 launched and achieved orbit. Two days, seven hours, 55 minutes and 20 seconds later however, on April 13, one of Apollo 13 s oxygen tanks exploded. This left the spacecraft virtually crippled, as the oxygen tanks were necessary for the supply of electrical power. Public interest in the mission switched from superstitious curiosity to (8) rapt attention and unity as NASA raced to find a way to bring the crew home safely.

[1] NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration.