Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Curiosity launch prompts Apollo 13 question

The recent launch of the plutonium powered Mars rover Curiosity has one tech publication taking a look into the past to inquire about the fate of Aquarius, the Apollo 13 lunar module that served as a lifeboat for the crew during their perilous journey back to earth.
According to Florida Today’s Flame Trench space blog, the tech site Txchnologist asked, “Will NASA ever recover Apollo 13's plutonium from the sea?”  After being jettisoned when the crew boarded the Odyssey command module, Aquarius re-entered the atmosphere and her remains now lay deep below the Pacific Ocean in the Tonga Trench, which is 35,702 ft (10,882 metres) deep at its deepest point.
It is believed that the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) onboard survived the fiery plunge to Earth and remains intact, as extensive monitoring over the ensuing years has not revealed any radiation leak.
A similar unit powers Curiosity.
Florida Today noted:
Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert were most the way to the moon on April 13, 1970, when a fuel tank explosion ripped through their Command Module, prompting the latter to make a now-famous call back to Mission Control:

"Houston, we've had a problem."
Which often is misquoted as:
"Houston, we have a problem."
No matter.
 The crippling explosion forced the astronauts to seek safe haven in the Apollo 13 Lunar Module, which was designed to ferry the crew to and from the surface of the moon. In this case, the astronauts reversed course and headed back to Earth in the Lunar Module.  
The saga of Apollo 13 remains an enduring (and endearing) fiber in the fabric of NASA’s legend. In other recent news, a checklist used by the crew to make calculations critical to their safe return to earth was sold at auction this week for $388,375. Commander Jim Lovell used the checklist to calculate the spacecraft’s position in space.
MSNBC reported that Dallas-based Heritage Auctions sold the checklist Wednesday as part of a batch of U.S. space program artifacts being offered during its "Space Signature Auction." The checklist was sold to an anonymous collector. A pre-auction estimated value for the checklist w
as $25,000.

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