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Apollo 13 Anniversary: What if NASA Had Failed?

Forty years ago today the collective heart of the nation missed a beat when an oxygen tank on the Apollo 13 service module ruptured as the craft was en route to the moon, nearly 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) from Earth. Famously, NASA held true to their motto that failure is not an option, and the...

Forty years ago today the collective heart of the nation missed a beat when an oxygen tank on the Apollo 13 service module ruptured as the craft was en route to the moon, nearly 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) from Earth.

Famously, NASA held true to their motto that failure is not an option, and the Apollo 13 crew were guided safely back to Earth on April 17. (See Apollo mission pictures.)

But what would have happened if NASA had failed?

For decades analysts have suggested that if the crew’s grueling maneuvers hadn’t set the craft into a reentry course, the module would have missed home by about 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers).

Apollo 13 would have swung past the planet and drifted out into space, and the astronauts on board would have eventually perished from lack of oxygen.

But new simulations by Analytical Graphics, Inc. now show that if Apollo 13 had missed reentry, it would have suffered a much different fate:

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