Trick Shot: The Brief Untold Story of Apollo 13


The dramatic against-the-odds survival story of Apollo 13, which suffered an explosion and critical equipment failure on the first leg of its journey to the moon, is one of the most famous true space stories. Immortalized in pop songs and a blockbuster film, many people know the broad strokes of the story. However, the most amazing part of their adventure in space is not actually that well-known. It’s the story of the most incredible trick shot in all, of human history.

After the oxygen tank explosion, the crew had to huddle in the Lunar Module as a lifeboat. The explosion had changed the trajectory of the craft, and it would no longer re-enter the Earth's atmosphere at the correct, safe angle. The trouble was, the ship had only limited battery power left. It wasn’t enough to start up the computer and make the course correction properly. Instead, the desperate crew file up the Lunar Module's engine and make the course correction themselves, by looking out the window and steering with a joystick.

This wasn’t merely difficult, this was insane. This was the last desperate act of a crew of walking dead men. There was no realistic chance of success. To put it in perspective, lining the ship up that way, by eyesight, was as difficult as standing 4 1/2 miles away from somebody's front door and throwing an envelope through their mail slot. It was a far more difficult shot than the most ridiculous trick shot made by Hawkeye in one of the Avengers movies. It was made even worse by the fact that they were in space. Maneuvering in space isn't at all like maneuvering in an atmosphere. Every move you make in an atmosphere is countered by air resistance, and there is no air in space. This means that all their experience in the aircraft wasn’t just useless, but wrong for the environment they found themselves in.

Yet they did it anyway. This, more than any other element of their incredible adventure, was the most incredible thing that they pulled off. A true testament to the heights that human ability can rise to when pressed to it.


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