(Originally published by the Daily News on April 18, 1970. This story was written by Mark Bloom.)
HOUSTON, TEX., April 17 - The Apollo 13 astronauts, buoyed by the prayers of millions, and boosted by the technical efforts of thousands, flew to a safe splashdown in the Pacific today after successfully coping for 2 ½ days with a life-and-death crisis in deep space.
With much of the world anxiously watching on television, the Apollo 13 command ship floated into view 10, 000 feet above the earth - about 4 ½ minutes before splashdown - with three beautiful orange-and-white parachutes billowing above the spacecraft.
For the first time since Monday night, when Apollo 13 suffered a critical power emergency, the tension relaxed.
At mission control, on the recovery carrier Iwo Jima, in the Apollo news center, probably everywhere in the world where men weighed this high, high drama together, spontaneous cheers broke out. The men of Apollo 13 - Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise - had returned to earth.
Incredibly, a guidance system that had been frozen since Monday night steered Apollo 13 through the atmosphere to a pinpoint splashdown at 1:07.40 New York time only 800 yards from its aiming point.
Four Miles from the Recovery Ship
Apollo 13 hit the water four miles from the Iwo Jima. Within minutes, helicopters were over the bobbing spacecraft, which stayed rightside up.
Swimmers leaped into the water, placed an orange floatation collar around the spacecraft, looked through the craft’s windows, and gave the thumbs-up sign. All was okay with the crew.
“We’re in good shape, ” Lovell reported in a tired but calm voice that raised another cheer and applause in mission control.
Each astronaut was hauled by rope basket to a chopper overhead, and they were zipped to the carrier deck, setting down just 45 minutes after splashdown. It was the fastest recovery in 23 manned missions of the U.S. space program.
“There has never been a happier moment in the U.S. space program, ” said space agency administrator Thomas O. Paine. “Although the Apollo 13 mission must be regarded as a failure, there has never been a prouder moment in the U.S. space program.”
Paine announced that a formal Apollo 13 review board had been set up to investigate the mission.
Nixon Will Fly There
He announced that President Nixon would fly to Houston tomorrow morning to present the Medal of Freedom to the entire manned spacecraft team, going on to greet the astronauts in Hawaii.
Accompanying the President will be Mary Haise and Marilyn Lovell, wives of two of the astronauts. Swigert, a late-hour replacement on the flight when astronaut Ken Mattingly showed susceptibility to German measles - which he has yet to come down with - as a bachelor.
The astronauts fly from the carrier, which took them aboard about 645 miles southeast of Pago Pago, to Samoa tomorrow morning and then to Hawaii. From there, they fly to Ellington Air Force Base, about five miles from manned space craft center here, their home base. A press conference with the crew has been scheduled for Tuesday night.
Last Hours Also Difficult
For the Apollo 13 crew, even the last few hours were difficult ones.
Early this morning they had perform a final midcourse steering change - with small attitude jets on the mooncraft Aquarius.
From there they had to get rid of the fully fueled service module, where an explosion of an oxygen storage tank had thrust Apollo 13 into the emergency.
When they did, they described and photographed a gaping hole in the side of the service module, ripped by the blast. The service module is the storehouse for Apollo command ship electrical power and breathing oxygen.
Then it was the task of discarding the lifeboat Aquarius, which was intended to land Lovell and Haise on the moon Wednesday.
But before they could discard Aquarius, they had to power up all the systems of the command ship Odyssey that had been dead since Monday night.
This was successfully carried out. The command ship’s three batteries, which had been held in reserve for this portion of the mission, worked perfectly, bringing Odyssey up to full power. An emergency oxygen supply kept astronauts breathing.
Perfectly Normal Again
New York Daily News
New York Daily News covers Apollo 13 returing home to Earth on April 18, 1970.New York Daily News New York Daily News New York Daily News
And then Aquarius was discarded, Odyssey was on its own. It did the job.
As the bug-shaped lunar lander drifted away to be destroyed in the fierce heat of reentry, Lovell said: “Farewell, Aquarius, and we thank you.”
It was a mission of five days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 44 seconds. If the emergency in space had not struck, Apollo 13 would have been leaving lunar orbit for earth about the time spacecraft splashed down.
It all began last Saturday with the thunderous, staccato roar of a Saturn 5 booster rocket lifting off from Cape Kennedy at 2:13 p.m. New York time, hurling Apollo 13 in a 115-mile-high orbit.