Saturday, April 21, 2012

My (Very Tenuous) Connection With Apollo 13 and World Space Museum Replica

The Mission
This past Tuesday, 17 Apr, marked the 42nd anniversary of the successful touch-down of Apollo 13 in the Pacific Ocean. For those of us who were around back in April of 1970 there  unfolded before the world a drama unlike any other.

On 11 Apr 1970 Apollo 13 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and was to be the third manned mission to the moon. The first manned mission to the Moon, Apollo 11, flew in July 1969 followed by Apollo 12 in November. Apollo 13's crew consisted of:

- James "Shakey" Lovell Jr, Commander
- John "Jack" Swigert, Command Module Pilot ("Jack" Swigert was a last minute replacement
  for Ken Mattingly who was grounded by the flight surgeon after exposure to German measles).
- Fred "Pecky" Haise, Lunar Module Pilot

Haise (L), Swigert (M), Lovell (R)

On the left is the Command Module atop the Service Module. To the right is the Lunar Module.

Approximately 200,000 miles from Earth, Swigert was directed to turn on the oxygen and hydrogen tank stirring fans. Apprimately 93 seconds later a loud bang was heard, the result of the number 2 oxygen tank exploding in the Service Module. In the movie "Apollo 13", James Lovell (as played by Tom Hanks) informs NASA, "Houston, we have a problem." In reality it was Swigert who said, "Houston, we've had a problem."

The bright red tank is the oxygen tank
It was deemed that a Moon landing was no longer possible and Flight Director Gene Kranz aborted the mission. His next priority was getting the three astronauts home safely. The emergency (and the deft way in which it was handled by NASA technician's and staff who had to successfully translate their recommendations via radio to the troubled spacecraft) kept the world on the edge of its seat. The decision was made to use the moon's gravity in a slingshot effect to help the crippled craft make its way back to Earth. The resulting circumlunar orbit resulted in Apollo 13 holding the aboslute altitude record for a manned spacecraft of 400,171 kilometers (248,655 mi) from Earth on 7:21 pm EST, April 14, 1970. As they neared Earth, the damaged Service Module was separated from the Command Module Odyssey which allowed photos to be taken for later review and analysis. They then jettisoned the Lunar Module Aquarius.   As it was feared that the explosion may have damaged the heat shield, the re-entry became another nail-biting moment when the usual communications blackout lasted 33 seconds longer than normal. Fortunately a successful splash-down southwest of American Samoa and just 6.5km from the recovery ship, the carrier USS Iwo Jima, capped a harrowing chapter in American space exploration. While Lovell and Swigert were in good shape, unfortunately Haise suffered a severe urinary tract infection  from lack of water.
James Lovell would classify the mission as a "successful failure" for it's failure to land on the moon, but its success in bringing back the three astronauts safely under extreme conditions. The accident board findings are too lengthy to go into here but you can read a detailed account on Wikipedia:

The site has a lot of very interesting information about the world's space programs in general, with names, diagrams, photos, etc.

The Toy

This is an interesting little toy in several respects. First, it's more than just a toy - it's a history lesson. Secondly, it's small - I mean teeny-tiny!! Thirdly, it's part of a series which deftly encompasses America's space program in micro-miniature. The toy was first released in Japan in 2003. The series was created by ArcLight Corporation, and the models were produced by Kaiyodo, with the direction and assistance of Toshio Okada. ArcLight USA, Inc is making them available here now. Let's take a look at these three points:
1) History lesson. Not only do you get the model, but a multi-page flyer/poster detailing the mission, and a set of eleven trading cards with pictures of various aspects of the space program.

Front side of flyer (a)

Front side of flyer (b) - this portion is normally upside down as one looks at the unfolded flyer

 Back side of flyer

Front of display card

Back of display card

Front of trading cards

Cards 15 - 25

There are more cards included with other toys in the series.

2) The toy: I'm always telling people that if you don't have room for big collections, set your sights on something small. Well here's the perfect collectible for the 'space'-challenged (pun intended). From the tip of the exhaust to the end of the exhaust nozzle of the Service Module is only 2 3/4" (7cm) L and is only 2" (5.1cm) H. The Lunar Module is only 11/16" (1.7cm) H. The toy is advertised as a kit but that's a misnomer. All one has to do is attach the Lunar Module / Command-Service Module / Exhaust assembly to the pre-assembled 'Moon' base and voila' - instant display! There's also a marble in the set! A marble? I don't get it, but there you have it.

To the left is a SpaceX figure from Triang. As small is it is the Lunar Module is absolutely Lilliputian!

For more information on this line of toys, visit their website:

The Connection

3) I said at the beginning of the blog I had a connection to all this. Okay, it's a long-shot but it's there nevertheless. Although born in Cleveland, Ohio, James Lovell's family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he attended Solomon Juneau High School graduating in 1946. Twenty-one years later, in 1971, I graduated from the same high school!

My 1971 Solomon Juneau graduation photo.
The first pre-requisite for becoming an astronaut - don't look like a dork - LOL

Dated Feb 7, 1967, this was autographed for me by James Lovell. The story, as I vaguely remember it, was that my sister worked with his sister. When Cmdr Lovell came to Milwaukee for, I believe, his father's funeral, my sister asked his sister to get me an autograph - which he graciously accomodated - on the note paper of the casket company! Unfortunately it's a little worse for wear :-(

I remember not long prior to my graduation in 1971, Cmdr Lovell paid a visit to our school at which time he presented a slide show of the photos taken during that fateful mission. All I can say is WOW! It amazes me to this day that they survived.

You can visit a nice Solomon Juneau website here: ttp://

As always - Enjoy!