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Mission or Study ID:   Apollo 13
Saturn V
Launch/Start Date:
Landing/End Date:
6 days
Apollo 13 Crew Patch

The crew’s understated radio message to Mission Control was “Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.”. Within 321,860 kilometers of Earth, an oxygen tank in the service module exploded. The only solution was for the crew to abort their planned landing, swing around the Moon and return on a trajectory back to Earth. Since their command module “Odyssey” was almost completely dead, however, the three astronauts Thomas K. Mattingly, Fred W. Haise, and James A. Lovell had to use the lunar module “Aquarius” as a crowded lifeboat for the return home. The four-day return trip was cold, uncomfortable and tense. But Apollo 13 proved the program's ability to weather a major crisis and bring the crew back home safely.

The biomedical objectives were met by a combination of pre- and postflight testing and inflight monitoring. No inflight life sciences experiments were conducted during this mission, but the crewmembers' health and condition was assessed by pre- and postflight testing and inflight monitoring.

A very significant life sciences aspect of the mission was the exposure of an original prime crew member, Thomas K Mattingly (replaced by Swigert because of the possibility of infection), to German measles. This prompted the design and implementation of the Flight Crew Health Stabilization Program. This program was designed to minimize or eliminate the possibility of adverse alterations in the health of flight crews during the immediate preflight, inflight and postflight periods through attention to the areas of Clinical Medicine, Immunology, Exposure Prevention and Epidemiological Surveillance.

Before and after Apollo 13, researchers studied several physiological systems. Investigators studied the response of the cardiovascular system to weightlessness using lower body negative pressure and passive stand tests. The endocrinology experiments sought to understand biochemical changes in crewmembers by studying the balance of fluids and electrolytes, regulation of calcium metabolism and the adaptation of metabolic processes to the space environment.

The clinical aspects of crew health and safety were investigated by performing medical examinations and conducting inflight medical monitoring as evaluation methods. Investigators also studied musculoskeletal changes, clinical disorders in space due to imbalance between bone formation and resorption, inflight weight loss and inflight caloric intake. Another important aspect of crew health and safety is the protection against radiation, so one experiment focused on analyzing natural and man-made radiation encountered in space, with the goal of finding ways of limiting the astronauts' exposure to radiation. Vestibular system experiments not only aided researchers in gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that provide balance and coordination, but also contributed to alleviating the symptoms of space adaptation syndrome.

Scientists also utilized specific laboratory data to assess the health status of the astronauts prior to their commitment to space flight. This allowed them to detect and identify any alterations in the normal functions of the immunological and hematological systems which could be attributed to space flight exposure and to evaluate the significance of these changes relative to a person’s continuing participation in space flight missions. Biochemistry data, when integrated with the data obtained from a complete history and physical examination of each crewmember, permitted an objective assessment of crew physical status.

The detection of potentially pathogenic microorganisms was attempted, so that associated medical problems could be identified early and preventive measures could be established. These objectives included the identification of medically important microorganisms recovered from ill crew members to aid in diagnosis and treatment.

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