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Design & Engineering: The Hack that Saved Apollo 13


Apollo 13 Hack (image courtesy of Gizmodo)

Apollo 13 Hack (image courtesy of Gizmodo)

We are all familiar with the story of Apollo 13 largely due to the awesome 1995 Ron Howard movie (one of those movies where you know how it is going to turn out but you are still on the edge of your seat the whole time!).  Gizmodo has a great article detailing the actual process developed by NASA engineers to utilize whatever the astronauts had at their disposal to “fix” their spacecraft and get them home.

One of the biggest obstacles during the entire Apollo 13 crisis in 1970 (and there were a lot of obstacles) was that the Lunar Module was only designed to provide enough oxygen to 2 astronauts for a 36 hour period.  When the explosion forced NASA to abandon the moon landing, the three astronauts had to take refuge in the Lunar Module for 96 hours.  The Carbon Dioxide scrubbers (which prevented exhaled CO2 from accumulating) were filling up and the only spare scrubber was from the Command Module and it was square-shaped.  So you literally had that age-old problem of how to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The solution was to put a bunch of NASA engineers together in Houston, give them duplicates of every item that the astronauts had at their disposal and have them come up with one of the great engineering triumphs – an adapter for that square filter made out of a flight manual, space suit parts, duct tape and socks.  To learn more, check out the article here.  

The entire Apollo 13 story teaches us that the best engineering sometimes comes in our most trying times.  Even if it may seem that the odds are stacked against you, if you put together some great minds and put on your troubleshooting hat, great things can happen.  That truly is the power of design and engineering.

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