By Gorman Woodfin
-- Two hundred thousand
miles from home an explosion aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft detoured three
brave astronauts into danger. But as the world watched and prayed for their
safety, a divine rescue plan began to unfold. Apollo 13 engineer Jerry Woodfill
recalls the amazing events that brought our heroes home.
"All at once
I saw the alarm indication come on. At the same time, in my headset,
I heard the words, 'Houston, we've had a problem.'"
Imagine being 200,000 miles from Earth
in the cold darkness of outer space, and something is wrong,
very wrong. The Apollo 13 spacecraft had had a serious power supply malfunction that
could cause the lunar landing mission to be terminated early.
It was April of 1970. Apollo 13 was going to be the
third space mission to land on the moon. But on its way,
an explosion occurred. Warning system engineer
Jerry Woodfill was supporting Mission Control monitoring the situation.
"An oxygen tank had exploded in the mother ship. As they
traveled to the moon, it took two vehicles, the mother
ship and the Lunar Lander. An explosion of an oxygen
tank in the mother ship had disabled it. The only means
of getting them back to Earth was to be the Lunar Lander,
designed for two men for two days. But the trip back to
Earth for three men would take four days. Our difficulty
and dilemma was how to make this rescue ship last for the
entire time that it would take to get back to Earth."
Even though some of the most brilliant minds in the
country were working on these problems, with so many
factors that could go wrong, many felt the crew would
not be coming home. Some of the commentators gave them
one chance in 10.
But, as many remember, the
Apollo 13 crew did make it back against all odds.
The astronauts were praised for their heroism and courage.
Woodfill explains more of the problems they faced in trying
to get the astronauts back to Earth.
"Now the challenge was could we navigate the system back
to Earth in this configuration that we never expected
to have to see before, where we would use the Lunar Lander's
engine to navigate and propel the vehicle back to Earth,
an engine that was designed to land on the moon, but
hadn't been designed to actually push the vehicle into
an orbit that would return to Earth? Our difficulty was
to use this vehicle in a way it had never been used
They faced even more challenges.
They had to reconfigure the carbon dioxide
filtration system or the men would run out of oxygen.
The crew also needed to find a way to recharge some
batteries in the Command Module, batteries that were
essential for their return to Earth. So how did they make
it back? Jerry feels the answer is in one word: prayer.
"In all of our land, I have heard testimonies
of people praying in factories and in churches.
Even our Congress made a proclamation that 24 hours
after the explosion, on Tuesday, April 14th, 1970,
that businesses and institutions would make time
for their employees and associates to give prayer for
the rescue of Apollo 13. The Chicago Board of Trade
asked for a moment to stop the tickers and prayed
for the rescue of Apollo 13. And people prayed at the
Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The pope in Rome prayed
that these astronauts' lives could be saved. As we were
facing this difficulty, a Christian friend of mine
commented that he had prayed on the floor of Mission
Control that we would not do anything, by our ignorance
of what the situation was that would cause those men not
to get back to Earth."
While trying to
understand what the difficulty was, the crew couldn't
see that the explosion had severed the oxygen tank
from the vehicle or the damaged engine nozzle from
the panel that had blown into space. All they could see
were the communicated measurements that came back by
telemetry. In the ensuing moments, it took them some
time to understand what had actually happened.
"I know that even though the astronauts had been
courageous, the flight controllers and engineers
had been very inventive, but there was an element
beyond that, things that happen where the right
call was always made, even though there was
no way we could have known certain things that
were going on."
Jerry saw specific situations where he felt
God intervened. Even computer simulations
told the engineers that they would need a miracle
to get the crew home.
When the astronauts
had to move from the Command Ship into the Lunar Lander,
they had left the batteries in the command ship on too
long a time and depleted them. They would not have
enough power to re-enter Earth's atmosphere.
"That night the man responsible for the Lunar
Lander's battery system and power system was
called into the space center. As he went into
the space center, a thought came into his mind
how he might use a jumper charge of power from
the large batteries on the Lunar Lander to
these depleted batteries in the rescue
ship, in the re-entry capsule. When he got
to the space center, he tried the
procedure on the simulation computers,
and the computer says, 'Don't do it.
It's very perilous. Don't do it.' But they
had no other alternative. They had to
have power in these batteries. So they
tried his procedure, which incidentally
used a jumper cable. But it worked, and
they were able to re-enter Earth's atmosphere
with sufficient battery power."
loves to tell people about God's hand in the
Apollo 13 rescue, and there's one more facet
to his story. Jerry was not a Christian when
he worked on the Apollo 13 mission, but in
seeing the miraculous rescue unfold right
before his eyes, Jerry realized there was a
God in heaven.
"I knew that there was a hand of God in this
successful rescue, and so I began to search and
try to understand how God could do this. I went to a meeting of
Christian businessmen, and at that meeting I found the
solution. If I would invite Christ into my life, He
would dwell in me. He'd give me that power. He'd
clean up my life. He'd open and close doors, and
He'd lead and guide me. I read in the Bible
where it said, 'Call upon me and I'll show you
great and mighty things that you don't know about.'
I had seen Him do that with the rescue of Apollo 13."