Reblog: The Math That Saved Apollo 13


GCDXY here presents images from the Apollo 13 flight checklist. This is itself a re-representing of images that Gizmodo posted when Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell sold the checklist last year, but I’m just coming across this now. And it nicely combines the mathematics and the space history interests I so enjoy.

The particular calculations done here were shown in one of many, many, outstanding scenes in the movie Apollo 13. However, the movie presents the calculations as being done on slide rule, when the computations needed are mostly addition and subtraction. It is possible to use slide rules to do addition and subtraction, but that’s really the hard way to do it; slide rules are for multiplication, division, and raising numbers to powers.

But considerable calculation for Apollo (and Gemini, and Mercury) was done without electronic computers, and the movie would have missed out on presenting an important point if it didn’t have the scene. So the movie achieved that strange state of conveying something true about what happened by showing it in a way it all but certainly did not.

gcdxy

Two hours after a service module’s oxygen tank explosion on Apollo 13, Commander James Lovell did calculations that helped put the ship back on course so that they could return back to Earth. They needed to establish the right course to use the Moon’s gravity to get back home. Check out the article on Gizmodo from November 2011.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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