Apollo 13 Movie Review: Science and Ingenious Problem-Solving in Space
How it works
Launch Dynamics and Newton’s Laws
When the launch of Apollo 13 happened, the rocket reached a speed of 25,000 mph, causing the astronauts to reach a force four times greater than Earth’s normal gravity. When the spacecraft went through each stage, it released a used rocket that was followed by a second rocket, it slowed down, and the crew members were flung forward against their seatbelts from inertia. Inertia is the resistance of an object to any change in its motion or direction, which is part of Newton’s first law, an object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force.
An example of this in Apollo 13 is when the rocket takes off, and the astronauts are jolted back into their seats. Same with a car when you slam on the brakes, and the seat belt restrains you from flying forward. The launch scene also demonstrates Newton’s second law, which is the acceleration of an object directly proportional to the net force on it and inversely proportional to its mass (F= ma). The launch demonstrates this because in order for the shuttle to lift off the ground, the force has to be large, and as the thrust increases, so does the acceleration and force.
Critical Power and Life-Threatening Challenges
In the movie, we see that the ship has a malfunction with a chance of the spacecraft never reaching home, putting the astronauts’ lives at serious risk. In a scene where they are coming around the moon, and they get back in touch with Houston. The crewmen in the control room, during a meeting, discuss how the spacecraft only has forty-five hours of power left, which isn’t enough power for them to reach home. A crew member explains that power is everything, and without it, they can’t communicate with us, they don’t correct their trajectory, they don’t turn the heat shield around, and suggests they need to turn the power off completely right now or else they will make it to reentry. The crewman explains that with everything, the LEM draws 60 amps which is the Lunar Excursion Module satellite and goes on saying at that rate, the batteries are dead in 16 hours. He suggests that they should bring the amps down to 12 amps. That would disconnect the radars, cabin heater, instrument displays, guidance computer, and everything.
Carbon Dioxide Crisis: A Test of Ingenuity
In another scene in the control room, they start to worry about the astronaut’s health once Haise starts having a temperature, and none of them have slept at all. They have an issue arising with the carbon dioxide, and there’s a CO2 filter problem on the lunar module. There are five filters on the LEM that were meant for two guys for a day and a half, and they are at eight on the gauges. Anything after fifteen, the astronauts start to have impaired judgments, blackouts, and the beginning of brain asphyxia, which is a condition where the brain isn’t receiving oxygen.
In another scene towards the middle end, the astronauts are starting to be saturated with carbon dioxide since the levels keep rising quickly. It is very poisonous to breathe in carbon dioxide. So one way they demonstrate science in this scene is when back at the control room, a team gathers items that are on the spacecraft to figure out a solution to filtering out the carbon dioxide. They use the tools that are aboard the spacecraft and the crew members to assemble a filtration device and then test the device and determine if it works. They relay the instructions on assembling the device back to the astronauts, so they can assemble it.
- Lovell, J., Kluger, J., & Kluger, J. (1995). Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Mattingly, T. K., & French, C. (2006). Apollo 13: We Have a Problem: The True Story of the Apollo 13 Disaster. New American Library.
- Bilstein, R. E. (1996). Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles. University Press of Florida.