By Shelby Horton
Heath Sharp made a fatal mistake on Aug. 22, causing the loss of three astronauts. Those men would never be able to set foot on the moon, or anywhere, again.
Luckily for Sharp, a Pratt High School science teacher, this was all a simulation presented by the Cosmosphere’s 45th Annual Apollo 13 Fundraising event.
Sharp, along with many others, came to the Cosmosphere to have a unique experience with two members of the original crew of the historic Apollo 13 mission.
Along with simulating the events that had occurred on April 11, 1970, guests were able to dine with the astronauts and mission control specialists.
Attending was Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise, Gold Team flight director Gerry Griffin, and Black Team flight director Glynn Lunney.
“The experience was great, and I immensely enjoyed it,” Sharp said. “I wish my students could be here. They would benefit from it.”
Children and adults were divided into separate teams identified by color code, then they watched the launch sequence.
Seconds after a successful launch, a phone call came in reporting a problem had occurred.
The groups were sent to separate rooms to begin creating solutions to the problem, then presented them to other teams.
After regrouping and explaining their plan of action, as a group, each team voted on whose solution would work best, and would be used.
Then they watched a simulated version of their plan in action. Most failed. Only one team succeeded.
Finally, the veterans from Apollo 13 sat down and relived their memories of the actual mission after an oxygen tank exploded, causing the memorable events that followed.
“I looked over at Fred, and he was so quiet,” Lovell said. “I figured I couldn’t lose my cool, because he wasn’t. There was no alternative. There was an accident, and a problem to solve. The explosion was like getting hit by a meteorite, and we went from there.”
Gerry Griffin described the intensity of the situation, as few things fell in their favor by luck. If the lunar module’s alignment was even slightly off, there would have been little they could do to help the astronauts. Griffin recalls his nervousness when he was checking the angles through the Apollo optical telescope.
“I was nervous, because if that thing didn’t work right, I wasn’t sure what we could do next,” Griffin said. “I was just writing. When I went back to read it, I couldn’t understand any of it. It was just letters on one line.”
After performing the “Return to Earth Maneuver,” as it became known by mission control, the spaceship was traveling 2,500 miles per hour on its approach to earth.
“If you are going to have an accident in space, be only 2,000 miles out,” Lovell said.
The evening closed with a cocktail hour, serving sweets and champagne to their guests. It was a black-tie affair, near spaceships that had taken men into space.
Lovell closed the evening with some final words.
“What would have happened if Apollo 13 didn’t have that explosion? It would have become one of only seven successful mission, perhaps sucked into the dust bin of space history,” he said.
“In retrospect, even though I wanted to walk on the moon with Fred, this was the best thing that could have happened for NASA.”