On Thursday this week, an amazing piece of space history goes on sale at Sotheby’s Auction house in New York – the original flight plan from the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
It’s one item in a ‘Space Exploration’ auction of space memorabilia and artifacts, some of which are also highly significant. For example, the top item highlighted in the catalogue is a sample collection bag used by Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) to collect moon rocks.
But for me, the Flight Plan has to be the highlight!
Apollo 13, you will recall – especially if you saw Ron Howard’s excellent movie – was the ill-fated mission that ran into problems (“Houston, we’ve had a problem!”) when an oxygen tank on the Service Module exploded 2 days into the mission and together the crew – Commander Jim Lovell, Command module pilot Jack Swigert, & Lunar Lander pilot Fred Haise – with the NASA operations teams back on Earth had to overcome a seemingly endless stream of problems in order to slingshot around the moon and get back to Earth alive.
Those problems included making workable carbon dioxide scrubbers (the “mailbox”) to ensure the air remained breathable, rationing water use, computing the trajectory back to Earth, and procedures for separating the Command Module and Lunar Lander without the Service Module’s thrusters.
The crew were scribbling notes on all these problem & solutions, in the Flight Manual… which is why I think Sotheby’s have underestimated its value. The guide price is $30 – $40,000 USD. I think it’s more likely to be well over $100,000.
If I had the cash, I’d buy it and donate it to the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, where they have the only surviving module in this heroic saga, the Command Module (callsign “Odyssey”). They could put the flight manual back where it belongs, inside the Odyssey and have laminated copies of the pages outside for visitors to inspect.