Three astronauts miraculously managed to survive getting lost in space 50 years ago

  • This space mission could have ended in disaster
  • A leaking oxygen tank left three astronauts stranded in space
  • They had to find their way back to Earth

Published on Jun 28, 2024 at 2:42 PM (UTC+4)
by Ben Thompson

Last updated on Jun 29, 2024 at 4:07 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

Getting lost in space sounds like a nightmarish sci-fi movie scenario, but it really happened to three astronauts in 1970.

But miraculously, they all lived to tell the tale.

The incident occurred in April 1970 as Apollo 13 was heading for the moon.

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How Apollo 13 nearly ended in disaster

For those not in the know, Apollo 13 was NASA’s third attempt to land on the moon.

You may recall there was a movie based on it released in the 1990s starring Tom Hanks.

In short, the mission wasn’t a success – but it could have been a lot worse.

The craft used was divided into three parts – the command module where the astronauts would be stationed, the lunar module that would carry two of the men to the moon, and the cylindrical craft with the main engines and oxygen tanks.

Unbeknownst to them, there were some cracked wires next to the highly flammable oxygen tanks.

One of the tanks exploded – as they were four-fifths of the way to the moon.

That would be 200,000 miles from Earth, by the way.

Not the time or place for an accident.

It was this situation that led James Lovell to report back to Earth: “Houston, we have a problem here.”

Whilst engineers at NASA scrambled to figure out what had happened, Lovell saw gas leaking from their craft.

He realized it was their oxygen supply.

How did the Apollo 13 astronauts get back to Earth?

Landing on the moon was now out of the question, so the only thing to do was correct course.

The tank’s explosion had shifted them off course and pushed them into orbiting the moon.

On their return, they would miss the Earth altogether.

An hour after the explosion, the men moved into the lunar module treating it as a ‘lifeboat’.

By this time, they only had fifteen minutes of power and oxygen left.

Leaving the guidance computer on, they drifted back to Earth over three days.

The temperature inside the craft had dropped to below freezing, and they got by drinking water sparingly.

Once they re-entered the atmosphere, they deployed the parachutes and landed in the South Pacific.

So ultimately the mission was declared a ‘successful failure’.

Which would usually be an oxymoron, but it definitely fits here.

# Tags - Space, Tech


Ben Thompson

Ben got his start in journalism at Kennedy News and Media, writing stories for national newspapers, websites and magazines. Now working as a freelancer, he divides his time between teaching at News Associates and writing for news sites on all subjects.