The Apollo 13 Mission

By | April 13, 2020

[April 13, 2020]  American novelist Ernest Hemingway once wrote that “courage is grace under pressure.”  Having spent many decades in the U.S. Army, I can attest to the truth of Hemingway’s quote.  An old, grizzly Marine gunny sergeant once told me that in combat, you had better keep your head or the enemy will.  Today, my topic is the Apollo 13 mission; ingenuity, courage, grace, and keeping your head.

For those who follow the unmanned and manned space missions, we know the risks taken by astronauts.  Several died in training and on missions.  A manned mission to the moon is the ultimate test of human entry into space, and the space race was on between the Soviet Union and America.  By the end of 1969, two successful missions to the moon were accomplished, ultimately fulfilling U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”1

Apollo 13 was to be the third mission.  However, the mission was aborted when an oxygen tank on the command service module exploded two days into the flight.  Mission commander James Lovell reported to mission control on Earth, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”  These words could not have been more prophetic.  With oxygen running out, electricity, and light about to end, it was up to a few men of NASA to come up with emergency procedures.  The incident occurred 50 years ago today, April 13, 1970.

The best way to find out what really makes up a person’s character is to put them under pressure.  A live or die situation is the epitome of tests of character.  Fortunately for the three astronauts aboard, the NASA crew and their ingenuity helped save the day.  How to do this was no easy task.  The first question was to return the spacecraft directly back to Earth or allow it to continue to the moon and then return.

Also, the astronauts and mission control faced enormous logistical problems in stabilizing the craft and its air supply.  Without functioning oxygen cells, the spacecraft could not return to Earth.  Navigation was another problem.  Dramatic and untested maneuvers repeatedly corrected Apollo 13’s course.

Fortunately, with the world watching, tragedy turned to triumph as the Apollo 13 astronauts touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean.  Looking back and coming to grips with what happened during that journey, Astronaut, now retired, James Lovell, sees the triumph of ingenuity, courage, grace, and keeping your head.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “The Apollo 13 Mission

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Yes, quotable quote, “What followed is equally well known – a story of resilience, ingenuity, guts and adaptability. ”
      Yes, it was definitely a story of “guts.”

    2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Yes, thanks Shawn. I like the idea of folks here finding some really worthy articles and posting a link to them.

  1. Kenny Foster

    I’ll humbly add a few more simple lessons. Please give me feedback.
    o Don’t Wait to Call in Your Support Team.
    o Work the Problem.
    o Know When to Cut Your Losses.
    o Stay Calm.
    o Keep Communication Avenues Open.
    o Work with What You Have—Not What You Wish For.
    o Be Creative.
    o Never Stop Practicing.
    o Stick to Tried-and-True Procedures.
    o Restate Your Vision.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Nice list, Kenny. Hard to beat your thinking here. Between you and Max, I think you’ve covered a grand amount of ideas to make us really THINK hard about lessons from the tragedy.

    2. Joe the Aussie

      Pow, you hit it out of the park. Sorry, but I just had to use the baseball analogy. I understand that all 3 of the American astronauts were big baseball fans. Cheers!

  2. Max Foster

    Lessons Learned from the Apollo 13 disaster:
    1. Prioritize and Communicate — NASA didn’t worry about anything other than saving the crew. The lunar landing objective was abandoned within minutes of the initial explosion. And everyone on the gigantic NASA team understood it.
    Experience Takes Experience— There’s no substitute for hours and hours of actually doing something. It’s the best preparation for catastrophe. NASA’s people had been in the lunar-landing business for 9 years when the explosion occurred aboard Apollo 13.

    1. Max Foster

      …. and one more:
      3. Assess and Manage Risk — When you are doing something as risky as sending people in sealed containers attached to explosives into space, you’d better have pretty darn good risk management techniques. NASA had to adjust on the fly (pun intended) during Apollo 13, but many of its improvisations were worked out in advance because NASA had done a good job of identifying many of its risks.

      1. Ed Berkmeister

        Good thinking, Max. Your number 3 is the best. Real leaders do this.

      2. Len Jakosky

        Well said. Once again Max, you’ve put a special touch of leader preparation in your words. Thanks.

  3. Santa Fe Mae

    Thanks for the remembrance of this ill-fated moon mission. The Apollo missions were happening at a time when the US needed something to draw it’s attention away from the Vietnam War and the crazy challenges to authorities by the hippie generation (who are now helping tear down America).

  4. Wilson Cox

    Only fifty-five hours into the flight of Apollo 13, disaster struck: a mysterious explosion rocked the ship, and soon its oxygen and power began draining away. This is what tests men’s souls. Or, someone wrote this a long long time ago. How very true it is.

    1. Fred Weber

      THe movie’s storyline: Based on the true story of the ill-fated 13th Apollo mission bound for the moon. Astronauts Lovell, Haise and Swigert were scheduled to fly Apollo 14, but are moved up to 13. It’s 1970, and The US has already achieved their lunar landing goal, so there’s little interest in this “routine” flight.. until that is, things go very wrong, and prospects of a safe return fade.

      1. JT Patterson

        I really enjoyed this movie. Suspense, drama, and courage all heaped into one short movie. I highly recommend it for those who know little about the Apollo 13 mission.

  5. Eva Easterbrook

    Unlucky 13. Some folks believe in luck. So do I but I believe we make our own luck. In this case Apollo 13 was jinxed. The exploding oxygen tank happened on the 13th also. Two very important 13s. Superstition?

  6. Dale Paul Fox

    I remember it well. Amazing, 50 years ago today.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Just for us old folks! Ha Ha. Just like wine, we get better with age. But we also remember the lessons of long ago. NASA was an up and coming organization. Later they would make similar engineers errors by rushing to meet unrealistic deadlines. Overall NASA is a great organization but it has it moments of stupidity.

      1. Randy Goodman

        True. But they were also very well organized, experienced, and had some great leadership to boot.

    2. Dead Pool Guy

      Yes, most of us here are not that old but we do remember being taught about the incident and remember various books written on the subject.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Good article on a subject of humans at their best.

Comments are closed.