The Major Failure of the Apollo 13

Introduction

The failure of Apollo 13 has left many people with various arguments. There are some arguments about what was the major cause of the Apollo 13 failure. The failure of the Apollo 13 was a big blow to the man in his attempt to explore the surface of the moon. This failure was a big blow bearing in the mind the effort that was dedicated in order to promote its performance. The failure of Apollo 13 posed a great threat to loss of human life and also led to failure of the lunar mission.

The Apollo system is one of the most complicated engineering which consists one of the most demanding engineering exercises which has been done by the man. The mission’s success is very demanding and requires a very high level of accuracy. Although Apollo 13 failed, there have been at least two successful lunar explorations.

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Such success required the men and women who were involved in designing, building, and flying it to practice a high level of accuracy. It is important to know the exact cause (or causes) of the failure of Apollo 13 in order to be able to prevent any such losses or failures in the future.

In order to understand the real cause of the problem, there is need to look at the events involved in the launching of the space craft in question. Research has been carried out in an effort to give a clear report on the major mission failures that occurs. Such findings play a very significant role in development of appropriate recommendations based on them.

Identification of the project and Source of the Project Failure

The main objective of this project was to explore the surface of the moon. This was in attempt to carry out selenological inspection and sampling of material in a specific part in Fra Mauro Formation. This project was also aimed at deployment and activation of an Apollo Lunar Surface experiments package (ALSEP) (Anonymous. 2006). All this information was of great significance in man’s attempt to better understand the space. Many photographs on unique places were also expected from the journey.

According to previous reviews, oxygen Tank can be seen as the major cause of the failure of Apollo 13. The problem was initiated by the service module cryogenic oxygen tank no. 2 (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). In other words, the tank was the major cause of the failure of Apollo 13.

Over the past, oxygen tanks that are identical to the oxygen no. 2 on Apollo 13 operated successfully in previous flights. This included the Apollo 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). Therefore, there is a big question on why the tank in Apollo 13 failed despite the fact those similar tanks had succeeded earlier.

In order to identify the exact cause that made the tank for Apollo 13 a failure, these tanks were compared in order to see whether there were any differences. This comparison was emphasized on the assembly, design, reviewing as well as test history.

Although Apollo 13 was not successful, it was successfully launched on the schedule. This was at Florida on April 11, 1970 (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). According to report by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1970), the launch vehicle stages inserted the S-IVB instrument unit with apogee of 100.2 nautical miles as well as perigee of 98.0 nautical miles. The take of stage went as expected.

However, the second stage boost devoted a little from what was expected. That is, the engine at the center of S-11 cut off about 132 seconds early than what was expected. As a result of this, the remaining four engines burnt 34 seconds longer than what was expected. This could be one of the major factors which could be attributed to the failure of Apollo 13. This technical problem also led to mismatch in other areas, which led to slight deviations from what was expected. Similarly, this led to deviation of the Space vehicle from what was expected.

That is, space vehicle speed after S-11 boost was 223 feet per second lower than what was planned and expected (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). This implies that the speed of Apollo 13 was affected. Since the speed was lower than expected, this implies that the space craft would take more time than expected in order to reach the destination. The prolonged time duration could also have led to the failure of the cooling system which leads to excessive heating hence bursting from extremely high pressure.

Since the space vehicle velocity was lower than what was expected, the S-IVN orbital insertion burn was about 9 seconds longer than what was predicted (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). This extended heating means that the temperature of the body was going to be greater that what was expected.

This may interfere with the working condition of the wires and even causing others to get charred. This increased length in heating also implies that the pressure was higher than expected. The higher the body got heated, the higher was the pressure. This could have led to explosion.

As a result of these problems, thee total launch vehicle was about 44 seconds longer that what was predicted (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). The probability of reaching translunar injection still existed at a probability of greater than 2-sigma (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970).

All the launch vehicle and spacecraft systems were verified after the orbital insertion after which the necessary arrangements were made for the translunar injection. This was followed by initiation of the onboard television at 01.35 ground elapsed time (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1970). This was done for about 5 and half minutes. Later, the second S-IVB burn was initiated on schedule. According to the report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1970), all other main system operated as required.

The next stage also started well as expected. The S-IVB APS was initiated at 04:18 g.e.t as expected and went on as in the right manner. This was completed without even a slight deviation from what was expected. Similarly, the liquid oxygen dump was successfully initiated some times late (04:39 g.e.t). According to the report given by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1970), the first S-IVB ALPS burn for lunar target point was later initiated at 06.00 g.e.t.

In summary, the main source of the accident was from the oxygen tank. Specifically, the ignition in the oxygen tank number 2 was the main root cause of the problem. This was as a result of extended heater operation at VKSC which led to destruction of the insulation on wiring. This caused short circuiting which resulted into combustion in oxygen tank.

The space craft was faced by several deviations of heating duration’s in various parts which were slightly higher than what was expected. This could have been the major source of the problem which led to overheating of the space craft to the extent of bursting from extremely high pressure.

Solution to the problem

From the above discussion, it is clear that the major failure of the Apollo 13 can be rectified to avoid such future complications. This discussion has clearly shown than the oxygen tank was the major cause of the failure of the Apollo 13. The drain tube was misaligned in such a way that it could not be able to drain after being filled.

Due to these misalignments during the assembly, the tank was caught with a very high level of temperature. When Apollo 13 reached at the height of around 200, 000 miles, its insulation wire charred off from extremely high temperatures. This also led to short-circuit which led to ignition in the oxygen tank.

Therefore, it is clear that the problem was propagated from one point to another. Therefore, one of the possible solutions is to improve on safety precautions at this point. For instance, there is need to avoid any contact between the oxygen tanks all wires and motors which may have no seals (Sweesy, 1996). By so doing, the possibility of short-circuiting is resolved. In case the current was cut off from the oxygen tank before short-circuit, then combustion in tank 2 which led to complications in other parts could have been avoided.

It is also necessary to have modifications in the oxygen storage tanks. More attention should be paid on upgrading the oxygen system to make it less susceptible to combustion which will most likely lead to unnecessary combustion in the space craft. The general operations of the system need to be modified.

From this analysis, it can be said that this deviations especially in temperatures could have been one of the possible causes of the failure of Apollo 13. The problem led to a series of unexpected deviations. The deviations from the normal could have propagated the extent of leading to the failure of Apollo 13.

For instance, the heating duration in various parts increased significantly from what was expected. Increase in heat could have led to an increase in pressure consequently leading to explosion. Increased heat could also have led to damages in wires consequently leading to a series of failure (Sweesy, 1996).

In order to avoid such increase in pressure, which leads to explosion hence magnifying the whole problem, there is need to have a way in which pressure can be reduced from the system in case of anything. This will improve on the security level of the flying crew albeit it will not help in solving the general problem.

There is also a need to have modifications in the insulation system. It is necessary to have adequate insulation in order to avoid unnecessary wire damages from such temperature deviations.

The alarm system was also having some complications. There is need to modify the Alarm system in order to avoid unnecessary alarms in the system. This can be rectified by increasing the differential between master alarm trip levels and the normally expected operating ranges (Anonymous, 2006).

There is also the need to modify the alarm system in order to avoid unnecessary blockage of alarms. It is also necessary to have independent talk back indicators. This will facilitate clear identification of any problem early enough before it propagates from one part to another.

Reference List

Anonymous. (2006). Actual cause of Apollo 13 failure. Retrieved from http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=1694.0;wap2

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (1970). Report of Apollo 13 Review Board. Retrieved from http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo_13_review_board.txt

Sweesy, I. (1996). Apollo 13 Failure. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9612390/APOLLO-13-Problem-Solution-Management