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Apollo 13 Command Module Foil

Apollo 13 Command Module Foil

About the Apollo 13 Command Module Foil Specimen

This specimen is a fragment of mission-flown kapton foil which provided thermal protection for the astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 Command Module.

The specimen measures approximately 1mm x 1mm and is enclosed in an acrylic cube with a magnified lid for easy viewing. The acrylic cube is housed inside a padded, glass-topped riker box display case measuring 5 1/2" x 6 1/2".

An information card is included with images from Apollo 13, details about the mission, and a certificate of authenticity.

The card also features a centerline die-cut square matching the dimensions of the acrylic cube.

This allows you to showcase the specimen inside the display case with any one of four different designs.

Please Note: The magnified lid is secured to the acrylic cube with special tape, but the specimen inside is directly accessible. If you choose to remove the lid to examine the specimen, please use extreme caution. This cannot be stressed enough. Kapton foil is very light and can easily escape. In addition, due to the delicate nature of the material, fragments can vary in shape.

Source: Acquired at auction, this material comes from the personal collection of retired NASA Production Control Engineer William R. Whipkey. Among space collectors, Whipkey is considered the most reliable source for kapton foil because he oversaw the decommissioning of the Command Modules from multiple missions. He was also responsible for making most of the commemorative displays for astronauts, VIPs, and others who worked on the Apollo Program.

About Apollo 13

"Houston, we've had a problem." ~ Apollo 13 Mission Commander James A. Lovell, Jr.

The Apollo program was conceived during President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration and later dedicated to President John F. Kennedy's goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" within a decade. The technological and scientific breakthroughs associated with the Apollo program were vast and long-lasting, but it is the human achievement which has held our imaginations for decades.

Above: NASA KSC-70PC-160 Launch of Apollo 13.

Launched on April 11th, 1970, Apollo 13 was set to be the third mission to land men on the moon and return them safely to the Earth. However, nearly 56 hours into the flight (055:54:53 GET) Oxygen Tank No. 2 exploded due to a fault in the Service Module’s electrical system. Oxygen Tank No. 1 was also damaged, and as the pressure dropped, a mission of discovery became a struggle for survival 205,000 miles (330,000 km) from Earth.

Above: NASA AS13-61-8867 Distant Earth crescent with Lunar Module Aquarius in the foreground.

In addition to breathable oxygen, the tanks also provided the fuel cells with power. This meant that the Command Module Odyssey could only run on battery power, and with just 15 minutes of power remaining for re-entry, astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise were forced to use the Lunar Module Aquarius as a lifeboat for the long journey home.

By design, the two-person Lunar Module had a 45-hour lifetime. In order to make the return with three people, they had to triple that limit, working with the Mission Operations team to make modifications to a craft never designed for open spaceflight and improvising solutions for a host of inter-related problems.

Above: NASA AS13-62-8929 (11-17 April 1970) "Interior view of the Apollo 13 Lunar Module (LM) showing the "mail box," a jury-rigged arrangement which the Apollo 13 astronauts built to use the Command Module (CM) lithium hydroxide canisters to purge carbon dioxide from the LM. Lithium hydroxide is used to scrub CO2 from the spacecraft's atmosphere. Since there was a limited amount of lithium hydroxide in the LM, this arrangement was rigged up to utilize the canisters from the CM. The "mail box" was designed and tested on the ground at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) before it was suggested to the crew."

They used the Sun as a sextant to align the guidance platform they’d taken from the Command Module. When carbon dioxide reached dangerous levels, they improvised fittings with plastic bags, tape, and cardboard to adapt the lithium hydroxide canisters from the Odyssey to the Aquarius’ environmental system and avoid suffocation. For days, the astronauts endured intense physical hardship, interior temperatures of 38F (3C) and tightly rationed food and water.

Above: NASA AS13-62-8990

Yet, despite the immense challenges, the crew persevered, splashing down safely in the South Pacific on April 17, 1970.

Above: NASA S70-35652 (17 April 1970) "The Apollo 13 spacecraft heads toward a splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. The Apollo 13 Command Module splashed down in the South Pacific at 12:07:44 p.m., April 17, 1970. Note the capsule and its parachutes just visible against a gap in the dark clouds."

Today, the return journey of Apollo 13 is regarded as the “successful failure,” a tribute to the courage and professionalism of astronauts, engineers, and the entire support team. President Richard M. Nixon captured this feeling in two sets of post-return remarks, first as he presented the entire Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team in Houston, Texas with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and again when bestowing the same honors on the astronauts in Honolulu, Hawaii:

We often speak of scientific “miracles”—forgetting that these are not miraculous happenings at all, but rather the product of hard work, long hours and disciplined intelligence. The men and women of the Apollo 13 mission operations team performed such a miracle, transforming potential tragedy into one of the most dramatic rescues of all time. Years of intense preparation made this rescue possible.

Your mission served the cause of the space program because of what you did. It means that future manned flights to space which will be made by our space program will be safer. Your mission served the cause of international understanding and good will.

I think I can truthfully say that never before in the history of man have more people watched together, prayed together, and rejoiced together at your safe return, than on this occasion.

You did not reach the moon but you reached the hearts of millions of people on earth by what you did.

Finally, your mission served your country. It served to remind us all of our proud heritage as a nation; to remind us that in this age of technicians and scientific marvels, that the individual still counts; that in a crisis, the character of a man or of men will make the difference.


Above: NASA S70-35606 (17 April 1970) "Rear Admiral Donald C. Davis, Commanding Officer of Task Force 130, the Pacific Recovery Forces for the Manned Spacecraft Missions, welcomes the Apollo 13 crewmembers aboard the USS Iwo Jima, prime recovery ship for the Apollo 13 mission. The crewmembers (from the left) astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr. (waving), lunar module pilot; John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot; and James A. Lovell Jr., commander; were transported by helicopter to the ship following a smooth splashdown only about four miles from the USS Iwo Jima. Splashdown occurred at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970, to conclude safely a perilous space flight."

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