After oxygen tank #2 blew the Apollo 13 mission apart, imagine a difference course. In an alternate universe, a ghost ship flew on. This was the ghost of what might have been. Picture the two Apollo 13s separating the moment the master alarm sounded 54 hrs. 54 min. 53.55 sec. into the flight.
In the ghost mission, oxygen tank #2 never was damaged in 1968 leading down a chain of events that caused the accident. While the real crew struggles with the electrical systems and watches their oxygen leak away, this ghost crew finishes up some tasks, snaps a few photos of a comet, and goes to bed, ready for the big day ahead. While the stricken Apollo 13 makes a quick engine burn of Lunar Module to put it on course to loop the moon for Earth, the ghost ship remains on its hybrid trajectory to set up the landing at the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon.
On April 14, the stricken ship flies ahead of its ghostly counterpart and slingshots around the moon and back toward Earth. At the same time, the ghost Apollo 13 fires the Service Module’s main engine for 5 min. 57 sec. to enter orbit, Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI), braking into a elliptical orbit of 170 by 60 nautical miles, 77 hours 25 minutes after launch. Out ahead, eight minutes later, the stricken Apollo 13 emerges from behind the moon, began preparing for a Lunar Module burn two hours later to speed up its return by about eleven hours.
The ghost crew is also preparing for an engine burn, this one of its healthy Service Module engine, called DOI, Descent Orbit Initiation, the maneuver that sets up the landing. This DOI will mark a first for the Apollo program. In previous lunar missions, the LM separated and performed the DOI. Using the command as a tug boat will save the lander’s fuel, enough for 14 seconds additional hover time at the surface. The big engine fires on the second lunar orbit for 23 seconds, sending the combined spacecraft into an orbit 60 by 8 nautical miles. At about this time on the stricken Apollo 13, the crew begins powering down the Lunar Module to save vital electricity.
Unlike future missions, the command ship will remain in low orbit for an extended period. Two orbits after DOI, the ghost crew photographs potential future landings site, Censorious Crater, from low altitude. They then enter a sleep period. April 14 is over.
On the 10th revolution of the moon, 96.5 hours into the flight, the afternoon of April 15, the ghost crew begins checking out their lander. At about the same time, the stricken Apollo 13 enters the Earth’s sphere of gravitational influence.
At 5:29 p.m. EST, the ghost Aquarius detaches from the command ship. At 6:48 p.m. EST, the command ship fires its engine for 4 seconds to circularize its orbit at 60 nautical miles.
At 9:44 p.m., EST, the ghost Aquariusfires its Descent Propulsion System (DPS) engine for Powered Descent Initiation, the 11-min. ride to the surface. At this same time, the crew of the stricken Apollo 13 is copying down information for a short burn to correct their course, which as is, will miss the Earth by a hundred miles.
The ghost Aquariuslands at Fra Mauro, Lovell guiding the craft into a smooth spot between Triplet Craters, behind and to the left, and Double Craters ahead of them. It’s 9:55 p.m. EST. After verifying all systems are working, that they’re go to stay on the moon, they prepare for their first moonwalk. It is now early April 15. At 2:29 a.m. EST, Jim Lovell, under the eye of a color TV camera (they also carry a black-and-white one as backup), steps out on the moon, the fifth person to walk its surface. He takes a few minutes to familiarize himself with moving on the surface and collects the contingency soil sample. He is followed in 11 minutes by Fred Haise. They set up a deployable S-Band antenna and Haise moves the TV camera (with a lens cap to prevent the burnout that ruined Apollo 12’s camera when it was pointed at the sun) and tripod 50 ft. from the LM. The two plant the U.S. Flag in view of the camera. Lovell and Haise astronauts can be distinguished in the TV and film camera photos by the red stripes Lovell has on his spacesuit, another first. It’d impossible to tell who was who in photos from Apollo 12. After saluting the flat, the pair moves around Aquariusdocumenting its condition with photographs.
At 3:43 a.m. EST, the two begin unstowing the Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package (ALSEP), its deployment the major task for this first moonwalk. They remove the two ALSEP packages from compartments at the rear of the LM, and also removed the plutonium power source for the experiments, Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTC) stored in a cask strong enough to withstand re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere, in the remote possibility that a problem occurs that ends with the LM re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Haise extracts the plutonium capsule from the cask and inserts it in the RTC. At the same time, Lovell off loads the ALSEP package containing the five experiments to be left on the lunar surface. Haise sets up the Hand Tool Carrier and something new on this flight, a electric powered drill capable of drilling the lunar soil to a depth of 10 ft.
The two ALSEP packages are placed barbell-style on a rod and Haise carries them to the deployment area, 500 feet west of the LM. Lovell takes the lead in setting up the ALSEP, assisted by Haise. Lovell deploys the seismometer package and Charged Particle Lunar Environment Experiment. At the same time, Haise assembles the power drill and drills the first hole for the Heat Flow Experiment to a depth of almost 10 ft. Lovell deploys the Cold Cathode Ion Gauge, then the Central Station, the hub for all the experiments, and aligns the transmitter antenna to earth. Meanwhile, Haise drills a second Heat Flow hole, and inserts the heat flow probes. The two then work together, Lovell assisting Haise in drilling a third hole, this one taking a core sample to a depth of about eight feet.
After finishing with the ALSEP, they make a short geological traverse. Their EVA, extended from four hours to five, allows time to venture out to Star Crater, then they loop in past Doublet Crater, taking more samples. At the LM, Haise sets up the Solar Wind Composition Experiment, which unrolls like a window shade, the same experiment as flown on Apollo 11. Their last act as the EVA ends, they use a brush to clean as much lunar dust as possible from their suits, the addition of the brush made from a recommendation of the Apollo 12 crew.
Ghost 13’s first moonwalk ends just after 7 a.m. EST, April 16. Aboard the stricken Apollo 13, the sleepless crew is fighting off cold which has now permeated the powered-down Aquarius.
After a sleep rest period of about 15 hours, the ghost mission prepares for the second moonwalk, the long geology traverse to the rim of Cone Crater. Lovell steps out on the moon for a second time at 10:11 p.m. EST, April 16. Haise follows nine minutes later, at the time aboard the stricken Apollo 13 he is read up the checklist for deactivating the LM prior to re-entry just half a day away.
Eleven minutes after Haise steps on the moon, the two begin the long traverse up the slope of about 4-5 degrees, bound for the rim of Cone Crater, a distance of about 4,500 ft. At several points in the climb, they stop to take samples, material thrown from deep beneath the surface when the crater was formed. They reach the rim, look out across the wide crater, rest a moment before beginning the return journey. The traverse to Cone Crater takes about four hours. They’ve walked two miles. All that remains is to pack the samples and haul them into Aquarius. It is now April 17. Haise climbs into the LM at 1:41 a.m., followed 13 min. later by Lovell.
It is now April 17 aboard the stricken Apollo 13. The sleepless crew begins preparations for re-entry early.
The Ghost Aquariuslifts off from the Moon after a stay of 33 hrs. at 7:22 a.m. At that time, aboard the stricken Apollo 13, the crew prepares for one final course correction to keep them in the re-entry corridor. Shortly after, they will jettison the damaged Service Module and gain a look at it.
Above the moon, the Ghost Aquariusdocks with Odysseyat 10:58 a.m. At this time aboard the stricken Apollo 13, the crew is preparing to jettison the Lunar Module.
At the time they splashdown, 1:08 p.m. EST, the Ghost 13’s crew jettisons their Aquarius in lunar orbit.
The ghost ship continues to orbit the moon, taking photographs, until the next day. At 1:42 p.m., April 18, their Service Module engine makes the TransEarth Injection (TEI) to send them home. At this time, the recovered Apollo 13 crew is being flown to Hawaii on their way home.
The ghost ship splashes down in the Pacific at 3:17 p.m. EST on April 21. On this day, crew of the real Apollo 13 holds a press conference in Houston to tell their tale of survival.