50 years ago: a routine day on the way to the moon

The Earth as seen from Apollo 13

*

            “Nothing much happened on the way to the Moon . . . which was exactly the way the Apollo 13 astronauts wanted it.”  That’s the way The New York Timesdescribed the first full day of the mission’s flight, April 12, 1970.

            One “first” does occur this day on our flight.  Commander Jim Lovell eats the first hot dog in space.  He pronounces it, “Very tasty.”

            It’s Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert who provides a moment of levity during the hum-drum day. Capcom Joe Kerwin, reading up the day’s news, adds “Uh-oh, have you guys completed your income tax?”

            In the rush before launch, Swigert hasn’t.  “How do I apply for an extension?  Things kinda happened real fast down there, and I need an extension.  I’m really serious. . .”

            Kerwin, stifling a laugh, replies, “You’re breaking up the room down here.”

            Later, Flight Director Glynn Lunney finds out that American citizens who are outside the country on April 15 are granted an automatic 60-day extension.  “I assume this applies.”

            At 5:53 p.m. EST, we reach the halfway point to the moon in distance, 128,880.5 miles from both it and Earth.

            The major event of the day occurs at 8:53 p.m., a four-second firing of the command ship’s Service Propulsion System engine.  With those four seconds, we leave a free-return trajectory, which would have looped us around the moon and back to earth with no further action. Henceforth, we are on a hybrid trajectory, which will have us arriving 70 miles above the moon in the correct alignment for landing on April 14.  If we fail to enter orbit, we still would loop the moon, but miss the earth by about 45,000 miles.  Not even close.

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