Course calculations that allowed Apollo 13 to find its way home.
Apollo 13 Flown LM Systems Activation
Checklist Book Directly from the Personal Collection of
Mission Commander James Lovell, Signed and Certified. An 8" x
6" checklist of seventy pages (many tabbed) printed on light
cardstock, three hole-punched and held together by binder rings;
the heavy back board cover is present, the front is not. There are
several ink notations in various areas and some very significant
pencil calculations on two internal pages. The front page has a
handwritten change date of "4-3-70" (eight days before
launch). Lovell has signed that front page: "James Lovell/
Apollo 13/ On board Odyssey-". He has also added important
historical context to this book by writing on a 3" Post-It note:
"This pub[lication] was utilized to transfer CSM guidance data
to LM guidance system so the spacecraft data of our attitude with
respect to the celestial sphere would not be lost. Note the time
these calculations were made GET 58 08 06 about two hours after the
explosion. James Lovell". Here is an incredibly important piece
of space history; Apollo 13 grabbed the entire world's attention in
April 1970 as even our enemies offered their help and prayers for
the crew's safe return. It's difficult to imagine that this is not
already on display in a museum. Heritage is certainly proud to be
chosen to make it available to some savvy space collector or an
institution. The condition is very fine with just light evidence of
wear from honest use. Let's take a look at the pencil calculations
that Lovell made and how this checklist was used at a critical
juncture in this flight.
"I want you to double check my arithmetic to make sure we got a good course align."
On the planned mission, this checklist would have been used as a step-by-step timeline of fifty-nine "Activations" or procedures from the entry and activation of the lunar module at about 83:00 hours into the mission through to the "go/no" go decision for undocking from the command module at about 99:00 hours. This was made irrelevant when an explosion, at 55 hours 55 minutes into the mission, crippled the Service Module on which the Command Module depended. The decision was made quickly to abort the mission. In the next couple of hours it was decided that the three crewmembers, James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise, would use the Lunar Module Aquarius as a "lifeboat" of sorts. Since they were already in the moon's gravitational field, a circumlunar "free return" flight path was chosen. The NASA Public Affairs Officer explained it at the time, as follows (taken from the PAO transcript):
PAO (PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER)
This is Apollo Control at 57 hours 58 minutes ground elapsed time. To recap briefly the situation here in Mission Control Center, we have an apparently serious problem with a leak in the cryogenic oxygen in the Service Module, which provides the electrical power system coming out of the fuel cells, and also, breathing oxygen for the crew. Now in the process of manning the Lunar Module. Standby... The current thinking is to use the Lunar Module descent propulsion system, a big engine of the LM to propel the entire spacecraft stack to higher velocity as they go around behind the Moon to come back to Earth a day earlier than a normal free return trajectory would return the spacecraft.
Before they could accomplish this, the Command Service Module's guidance data had to be calculated and transferred to the Lunar Module's guidance system. Mission Control had quickly walked Lovell through certain of the Activations from this book, including number twenty-five, steps one through three (see the image of pencil checkmarks on those three steps). He was then instructed to perform a complete Activation Thirty and Thirty-one (a course alignment). He turned to that section in this very book and started doing the required pencil calculations as seen in the first image. A math mistake at this point in the mission could've made the difference between a successful return home and an unthinkable alternative. Let's pick up the action involving these calculations, again from the NASA mission transcript:
058:00:51 LMP (HAISE)
Okay. What next, James? Course align?
058:00:57 CDR (LOVELL)
Do it right. Take your time.
058:01:32 CC (CAPCOM)
And, Aquarius, Houston. We'd like you to, on your alignment, can you continue right on through the fine align Activation 31? Go right on through step 7. Over.
058:01:45 LMP (HAISE)
Okay. You want to go on 31 through step number 7, Jack.
058:02:26 LMP (HAISE)
Okay. VERB 41, NOUN 20. Okay. You want plus? Plus or minus? Plus 302.43? Is that right?
058:03:12 LMP (HAISE)
Okay. Let me enter it. Okay. What's the next one? Plus 347.78. 347.78. Okay. 081.3. [???] that right? ENTER. Okay.
058:03:53 CC (CAPCOM)
Odyssey, Houston - - 02 10 03 54 CDR
058:04:01 CC (CAPCOM)
Go ahead, Aquarius.
058:04:03 CDR (LOVELL)
Houston. Okay. I want you to double check my arithmetic to make sure we got a good course align- The roll CAL angle was minus 2 degrees. The command module angles were 355.57, 167.78, 351.87.
058:04:36 CC (CAPCOM)
Okay, Jim. We copy the roll CAL at minus 2.0. The command module is 355.57, 167.78, 351.87.
058:05:19 LMP (HAISE)
Okay. VERB 41, we've done that. Okay.
058:07:11 CC (CAPCOM)
Okay, Jack. Thank you. And, Aquarius, your arithmetic looks good on the course align, there.
058:07:20 CMP (SWIGERT)
Okay. Okay stand by for an ENTER.
058:07:26 CMP (SWIGERT)
058:07:39 CMP (SWIGERT)
Get the GET; we need the GET. What is it? What's that? 58? 58:07?
058:08:15 CMP (SWIGERT)
058:09:16 CDR (LOVELL)
058:09:18 CC (CAPCOM)
Go ahead, Aquarius.
058:09:23 CDR (LOVELL)
Here are the gimbal angles. Command module, 356.69, 163.42, 346.67. Aquarius is 302.26, 345.92, 011.79. Over.
058:09:47 CC (CAPCOM)
Okay, Jim. I got command module 356.65 [sic], 163.42, 346.67. Aquarius, 302.26, 345.92, 011.78.
058:10:07 CDR (LOVELL)
058:10:11 CC (CAPCOM)
Say again, please.
058:10:17 CDR (LOVELL)
The LM middle gimbal is 011.79.
058:10:22 CC (CAPCOM)
011.79. Got it.
Take a look at the numbers in bold above and compare them to the numbers in this checklist. Also, note that Lovell, in the pressure of the moment, wanted Mission Control to make sure these figures were correct. Houston confirmed his numbers, they were entered into the LM guidance computer and, as they say, the rest is history.
This pivotal and dramatic scene was wonderfully portrayed in the excellent 1995 film Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard, at approximately 0:59:36 to 1:01:55 (Chapter 23 on the DVD) elapsed time into the film. Leading up to the scene where Lovell does the calculations, Flight Directors Gene Krantz and Glynn Lunney are discussing the situation:
Now, if Jack can't get that guidance computer data transferred before they go dead in there...
They won't even know which way they're pointed.
That's a bad way to fly.
Lovell does the calculations. Artistic license, of course, was taken in the dialogue but the numbers used are the same and Lovell makes a similar comment about wanting Houston to confirm his figures.
Okay, Houston, check me. I have completed these gimbal conversions, but I need a double-check of the arithmetic."
After reading the numbers out, Lovell makes a comment that perfectly states the importance of the figures he wrote in this checklist book.
"We've got negative visibility in our star field, and if this paperwork isn't right, who knows where we'll end up out here."
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