Human Journey

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 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:

  • knuckleduster

    Thank you CANADA

  • Giant66

    Is your assumption that the astronauts made none of the mid-course corrections that really occured? The trajectory was refined to ensure that a safe return was possible. Computer code that allowed the Lunar Module to push the Command/Service Module was already programmed into the on-board computer before they left, as a backup plan. Incredible foresight indeed.

  • jack

    Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.
    mbt shoes online
    mbt sandals
    mbt sandals sale

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (

Social Media