17 April 1970 – Odyssey returns to Earth

On this day 43 years ago, the Command Module Odyssey splashed down.

Apollo XIII

I remember – as if it were yesterday – being glued to the TV watching the coverage of this glorious disaster.  It was inspiring.

But we don’t have a manned space flight program anymore… do we….


I can’t help but post a couple videos…


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Fr. B says:

    Unfortunately, no the United States no longer does, if the criteria for a manned spaceflight program is the ability to launch an astronaut into space with indigenous launch technology. We still do fly astronauts, however, to the International Space Station, by paying for seats on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

  2. Austin Catholics says:

    The federal government runs a budget deficit of billions of dollars a year. We are supposed to go further into debt just to send people into space? This is an area the private sector can take over now.

  3. acardnal says:

    “Houston, we have a problem.”

  4. jflare says:

    Weeeeeeellllllllll…..OK, I was about to say that technically we do, Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne made a suborbital flight in 2004 as a private venture. According to Wikipedia though, said craft was immediately retired, so I guess we don’t even have that.

    ..And it doesn’t count to be paying the Russians for flights to the ISS.

    I didn’t see much about future flights for the Rutan efforts, but I recall reading an article a few years ago, commenting that Rutan had originally aimed for regular service, say to the ISS, but had found that the most he could find business for was..cargo flights to the ISS. On behalf of NASA.
    Doesn’t sound like the program has gone much of anyplace.

  5. Mike says:

    I was in 6th grade, parish school, and the nuns had black and white TV’s hung high in the corner of each room. I remember watching these in school. We didn’t have the TLM, alas, but, small consolation, we had NASA.

  6. BalmerCatholic says:

    While not alive when Apollo XIII actually happened, the movie was a big deal during my senior year of high school. So much so that I actually went to see Jim Lovell speak at the local university when he came to town. Very cool presentation, and we heard a few tidbits on why astronauts did certain things while on their missions (such as the tucking their hands into their suits: there was an incident where someone awoke to their watch being directly in their face since they were free floating).

    Well, I sort of know how some of those NASA guys feel today, as the sequester hit my company, and I was a casualty of that. Looks like I’ll be devoting a bit more time to prayer for the immediate future.

  7. Marcello says:

    I remember the whole mission vividly. For those too young, the movie Apollo 13 really captures the experience.

    Other than the Apollo XI landing on the moon, one of the most memorable moments was the reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve 1968 from Apollo VIII as it orbited the moon. It still brings tears to my eyes all these years later, especially the final seconds. Here’s the link for the full video:

  8. Bob B. says:

    I, too, remember it well, just out of high school the year before…
    For the science teachers that might read this, I used to teach a space segment and I broke the class up into teams, each taking a particular Apollo mission. I would conclude with having my students give an oral presentation to the principal. I would then call each team up and present each student with the Apollo mission patch they had worked on. I still have former students tell me they have their patches, though some are out of college already. Do it, if you can. It’s great to combine math, science and history in presenting this to the kids (I would also show the Apollo 13 movie and crank up the volume and bass when the Saturn V rose off the launch pad!).
    On a more somber note, remember a couple of years ago when the NASA boss said his foremost mission was to better relations with the Muslim world? No wonder we don’t have any manned space programs anymore!

  9. Potato2 says:

    I thought the movie “The Right Stuff” nailed the entire space program to a “t”

  10. Clinton says:

    About two weeks ago, NASA Chief Charlie Bolden told a joint meeting of the Space Studies
    Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board in DC that “NASA is not going to
    the moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime”. He acknowledged
    that other governments and private companies have an interest in the Moon, and added that
    “they all have dreams of putting humans on the Moon. I believe I told every head of every
    partner agency that if you assume the lead in a human lunar mission, NASA will be a part
    of that. NASA wants to be a participant”.

    *sigh* He makes NASA sound like the kid brother who wants the big boys to let him tag along.
    NASA used to lead. Now NASA fetches the other guy’s coffees.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    My brilliant solid-state physicist brother (one of three) was on the team which developed the skin on the shuttles so that no one would burn up ever again. His grants were cut back by you know who, and my cousin took early retirement at NASA (we are a bright bunch-except for me).

    Such stupid cut-backs have destroyed the search for excellence in our country and affected our education systems.

    “The people without a vision perish.”

  12. LarryW2LJ says:

    When, as a Nation, we stopped having higher goals – something inside, died.

  13. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Such stupid cut-backs have destroyed the search for excellence in our country and affected our education systems.”

    True, but the search for excellence has been even more affected by the psychologizing nannies in the Ed Pych field. In my day, we all dreamed of going to MIT. Those same high school students, today, dream of going to Cheap State. Students are taught to have self-esteem based on no performance criteria, only a vague feeling of self-worth dictated by a government that is nothing but palliative. It is not in the government’s interest at this time to develop an educated populous that might cach on to its grand scheming.

    What we are seeing is a Cream Effect. The population of pre-college kids is splitting, maybe 15%/85% into the super-achievers and the rest. The super-achievers have five activities outside of school per week, maintain straight A averages, and plan, plan, plan. They think about everything except their eternal destiny. The rest are, increasingly, amusing themselves to death, to borrow the title of a Neil Postman book (well worth reading). They learn enough to get by, but are more intent on games, sex, and being accepted. They are the perfect Deltas from Huxley’s, Brave New World. What is missing from both groups is a sense of continuity with the past and an optimism for the future based on faith in a God who act both personally and in history.

    This dumbing down is either the grandest of conspiracies, or sheer stupidity on the part of the elite political arm of the education establishment. Gone are the days of the rocket Boys from the movie, Red Sky. You can’t even make a decent basement chemistry set for kids, anymore. Mr. Wizard was going to make one in the 1970’s after he retired, but couldn’t due to red tape – because of the (pardon my language) idiot parents who could follow the very clear instructions in the lab manuals (although, had they left their kids alone, I’ll bet they could) and then decided to sue the chemistry set maker who would have won the frivolous lawsuits, but decided to fold up the sets rather than shell out the money to win.

    The state of personal responsibility is near criminal in the U. S., today. The sense of awe that sent many a kid not science is just gone. Kids are not allowed to think about the big questions because in doing so, they will, eventually, run into a Sovereign God, who is not simply a buddy, a virtual pal, like on the Internet.

    Okay, Chicken, tell us how you really feel :)

    “The federal government runs a budget deficit of billions of dollars a year. We are supposed to go further into debt just to send people into space? This is an area the private sector can take over now.”

    Anyone who has downloaded NASA technical reports (which used to be in the public domain, but are now classified for fear that the Chinese might learn some science, I guess) will quickly realize that private enterprise does not have either the infrastructure nor connection between disparate disciplines to do what the government did in the 1960’s space race. Yes, a lot of the essential science has been done, but tracking space ships requires world-wide cooperation among nations and private enterprise just can’t pull that off. If private enterprise had been n charge of Apollo-13, we would have lost them, for sure.

    What we need is NASA to be the overseer, as it was originally intended to be, of any space activity, much as the FCC oversees communication. The government has a stake in space, both manned and unmanned. It is the lack of courage and vision among government leaders (I thought that was the definition of a leader) that is causing the mess, today. Heck we put a man on the moon. I think NASA, in its heyday could have, probably, solved the problem of world hunger while they were at it, but you know, no one thought to ask them :)

    Oh, and get rid of Obama. Better relations with the Moslem world? What the heck does that have to do with space? The man is so far out of touch with NASA’s mission that the telephone company stopped putting down telephone poles in the land where he does his thinking.

    Too much?

    The Chicken

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should read:

    idiot parents who couldn’t follow the very clear instructions…

  15. Jack Regan says:

    Interesting you should post this, Father, as I was using the 1995 movie earlier this week with my students as a metaphor for Easter. During Holy Week I showed the part where the explosion happened and where nobody had a clue whether or not they would get back alive, and then this week i showed the happy ending!! I thought it was rather a good metaphor for Holy Week and Easter; for the desperation of the disciples turning to joy!

  16. SKAY says:

    “On a more somber note, remember a couple of years ago when the NASA boss said his foremost mission was to better relations with the Muslim world? No wonder we don’t have any manned space programs anymore!”

    Obama appointed Bolden to head NASA to do EXACTLY what he is doing.

  17. Kathleen10 says:

    Supertradmum: that is so great. how smart must he be!

    Masked Chicken: I agree with you, so it’s not too much at all. ;)
    anyway I like to read more than sound bites. it’s hard for me to talk all parsed out like people do now.

    I hold a grudge against Tom Hanks (Apollo 13). I loved him as a young comedic actor, but he was in the DaVinci Code, and since then I don’t want to see him. I also boycott Opie (Ron Howard) for the same reasons, but that hurts me a great deal, because he was the cutest little boy EVER.

  18. Kathleen10 says:

    Pardon: it’s hard for me to type all parsed out. It’s easy for me to talk all parsed out. Difference.

  19. MarylandBill says:

    I think we need to keep things in perspective.

    NASA is still a leader in space exploration, but outside of the space race in the 1960s, it has always been most interested in the science. Sure, they are not sending men to the Moon, but they are sending robots to Mars, probes to Jupiter, Ceres, and Pluto, as well as planning on launching the James Webb Space Telescope, and a host of other missions. Now we want manned missions.. well because they are cool. But I think people are being pessimistic about what the private sector can accomplish.

    No one has mentioned the efforts of SpaceX and its Dragon capsule. They are currently working on a crew carrying version of the capsule and hope to have human test flights in two years. furthermore, it is not being developed as a low orbit only vehicle; there are even people working on versions that would be capable of going to Mars. Now capsules are not as cool as the Shuttle was, but they are much safer.

    Regarding SpaceshipOne and its successor SpaceshipTwo. They are designed for suborbital flights only. Rutan was never seriously shooting for orbital missions and you can tell from the basic design. Even if they had enough fuel and power to make orbit (They don’t), the ships are not nearly robust enough to survive reentry from orbital speeds.

  20. Blog Goliard says:

    For those of you who love rockets and space, and would be willing to give an astronautics-based computer game a spin, I have just three words for you:

    Kerbal Space Program

  21. jaykay says:

    Wow… 43 years ago. I won’t say I remember it like yesterday but remember it I certainly do. It was actually a week after I made my Confirmation, and as I still had “lots” of money from gifts, I was in two minds as to whether to buy the large “Airfix” model kit of the Saturn V, or the smaller (but still satisfyingly large) HMS Victory. A survey in Woolworths revealed that the Saturn was sadly beyond my range, but the ship was affordable and I’d even have almost 2s (2 shillings) left – a fortune. So Victory won (!).

    Masked Chicken: “Better relations with the Moslem world? What the heck does that have to do with space?”

    Reminds me of a passage in Bruce Chatwin’s book “The Songlines”, where he’s in Timbuktou and is talking to a local, something along these lines: “He asked me: ‘There is a people called the Merkains? They have walked on the moon?’ I affirmed both. He replied: ‘They are blasphemers’ “.

  22. Luvadoxi says:

    I grew up in Dallas and am around Jim Lovell’s daughter’s age. I preferred the Monkees and Herman’s Hermits to the Beatles, though. And I was in love with Herb Alpert of the Tijuana Brass, as well as all the stars of Star Trek and the Man from U.N.C.L.E. The movie captures the era so well! Star Trek and mini skirts, although my mom wore house dresses not mini skirts, and a youthful innocence. It was a great time to grow up in. Later, when the movie Apollo 13 came out, my parents lived in the same community as the Lovells, and they were invited to their home to see the premiere of the movie–how cool is that?

  23. Blog Goliard says:

    They did a fine job with the Apollo 13 movie.

    There are a couple other gems that deserve mention. I believe The Masked Chicken already mentioned October Sky; I also treasure the Australian film The Dish.

  24. Marcello says:

    Bob B. says:
    17 April 2013 at 10:34 pm
    […] (I would also show the Apollo 13 movie and crank up the volume and bass when the Saturn V rose off the launch pad!). […]

    Don’t get envious but I had the luck of being present for that famous Apollo XVII night launch, which was thrilling and sad because it was the last manned mission of Project Apollo to the moon.
    The ground shook and your whole body vibrated from the sound pressure, and I think we were something like 2 miles away or more. My uncle took gorgeous Ektachrome 6x6cm slides of it on his Hasselblad mounted on a tripod. Regrettably, all those slides went missing after his death back in the early 1990s. Would love to have had them now!

  25. dcs says:

    But we don’t have a manned space flight program anymore… do we….

    No, because so many resources were wasted on the Shuttle

  26. Bob B. says:

    Marcello, my dad worked at the Cape when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade and then at Huntsville, AL. I remember a number of failed attempts falling into the bay and successes from along the beach where we lived (Patrick AFB) and engine testing at Huntsville.
    One of my classes put my name forward for NASA’s Teacher-to-Astronaut Program, which I am still proud of today.
    From the Earth to the Moon, both the book and the movie series, are things to have, too.

  27. netokor says:

    Tom Hanks, along with the rest of Hollywood liberals, is a vicious anti-Catholic Obama lapdog. I also make a point not to watch anything he appears on. Manned missions are more than just cool. Air and Space leadership and progress were a reflection of a national spirit of honesty, enthusiasm, pride and intelligent risk-taking. What can I add. It’s no longer “We the people,” but “We Big Government.” Even general aviation is dying.

  28. Marcello says:

    @Bob B.

    I’ve been a “space junkie” my whole life. I think Apollo VIII was perhaps the greatest mission. It was the first time man left the confines of earth to actually orbit another planet and Apollo VIII itself was the first time we put men on top of that huge “candle,” lit it up and sent them on their way.

    My uncle worked for Hasselblad and had something to do with selling, maintaining and servicing the cameras for NASA for Project Apollo; I’m not really sure exactly what his role was, but he knew enough people to get us various guided tours of the Cape and the MSC in Houston. I met Gene Kranz–a daily communicant, BTW–and a bunch of other guys on the White Team, we saw the firing room at the Cape, had our pictures taken with Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, after Apollo XVII returned. My uncle had a friend who worked for the company that manufactured the bearings used in the guidance platform. I have a small vial with several of those bearings, which means nothing unless you understand inertial guidance systems and the function of the gyros.

    It was certainly a heady era. That was when this nation had such a “can-do” attitude–“failure is not an option”!–that anything was possible. We have now sadly become a risk-averse bunch of whiners, afraid of our own shadows, fearful more of “offending” someone or some group, rather than plunging ahead to make history.

    To me, the whole endeavor of manned space exploration took on almost a religious significance. In fact, virtually everyone involved were believers–an atheist was a rarity. Except for one or two astronauts, everyone who went to the moon describe the profound sense of spirituality they found. I think it was Buzz Aldrin–a high-church Episcopalian (leaving the invalidity of Anglican orders aside, for the moment!)–who communicated on the moon’s surface while in the LEM.

    What a time to have been alive. The kids today don’t know what they missed!

  29. Bob B. says:

    That’s why it’s so important that teachers convey the width and depth of the space program and go the extra mile. I was fortunate enough to have each student write one question to a Shuttle astronaut and have each answered. It got to the point that they only wanted to do science and religion every day – this is when you know you’re on to something good. This is where you show how valuable math is (e.g., catching the moon), and history (e.g., JFK’s speech stating we were going to the moon). Between having a few students say they might want to be astronauts and a few telling me they wanted to become priests, it’s been great to teach.
    I agree about Apollo VIII – (Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.)

  30. Blog Goliard says:

    Teachers in this thread may be intrigued by some of the educational/simulational projects people are undertaking with Kerbal Space Program (which I mentioned upthread, and can’t help mentioning once again since education has come up).

    When the KSP forums went down last week, we lost an excellent thread started by a high school teacher who has been planning to run a moon-shot simulation in his class after the AP exams are done, otherwise I’d refer you there…but here’s some pictures posted by some guys (they appear to be college friends) who ran something similar on their own initiative:

    Mission to Mun — http://imgur.com/a/sW3Tz

    Just too cool.

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