Cabot Award Shared by Two Men Who Helped Bring Apollo 13 Home


Last Friday, the Aero Club New England bestowed its Godfrey L. Cabot award to Joe Gavin and Gene Kranz. Gavin was the Director of the Lunar Module Program for Grumman, and Kranz was the Flight Director for the Apollo missions. (He was the guy in the vest played by Ed Harris in the film Apollo 13.) Gavin spoke briefly, making some good quips about developing “a flying machine we couldn’t flight test” and how working to get the crew of Apollo 13 back alive was “the longest time without sleeping I’ve ever faced.” But it was Kranz’s presentation that stole the show.

Kranz framed the plight of Apollo 13 by noting that there wasn’t a single Mercury mission that didn’t have a major problem to solve and that both Apollo 11 and 12 had been “a bit sporting.” Apollo 11 landed on the moon with 17 seconds of fuel remaining, and Apollo 12 lost an engine on liftoff. His presentation described the gut-wrenching decisions that ultimately were his call to try and bring back three men in a crippled spacecraft over 200,000 miles from home. For example, they chose to sling the crew around the moon rather than attempt to reverse course (because Kranz had a gut feeling the rocket needed for that might be damaged) even though that path was a day too long for the astronauts to survive. They figured out how to shave a day off the return later.

Below are some of the slides from Kranz’s presentation. His bestselling memoir, Failure Is Not an Option, tells of his experiences in 37 years at NASA.


Gene Kranz, second from right, in his traditional vest.

One of the actual drawings from the "square peg, round hole" problem of fitting the CO2 scrubbers from the command module into the lunar lander for its days as a life boat.

Astronauts building the jury-rigged system that hopefully will keep them from suffocating.

The first time the crew saw the extent of the damage that extended back to a rocket motor they had considered firing to get home. Kranz chose not to allow this based on a gut feeling they shouldn’t, not knowing the extent of the damage.

Ken Mattingly (left) was the command module pilot who didn’t go (because he had not had measles as a child), yet he was essential in developing the procedures that got them back to earth.

Part of a 500-step checklist created for the process they hoped would work in transferring control back to the command module and returning to Earth.

Excitement builds as the crew gets closer to home.

Waiting for confirmation the crew survived reentry.

Still waiting … .

After "six days in a meat locker," the crew steps out into the south Pacific.

There weren’t enough cigars in town for all 1400 people at Houston, so they cut them in half.