When an oxygen tank explosion crippled Apollo 13 two days after it lifted off from Earth in April of 1970, NASA engineers began working frantically to come up with a solution to save the three astronauts on board. But a retired NASA spokesman has just revealed that the crew of America's third moonshot wasn't saved by someone at the space agency.
We've all seen the movie, right? The official story has always been that a bunch of tired, overstressed scientists were working day and night to get the Apollo 13 crew home while the astronauts fought to stay alive in space. Then one of those scientists gets the idea to slingshot the craft around the moon and use the momentum to help propel the astronauts home. It worked, but according to the agency's 97-year-old former deputy chief of media relations, the idea didn't come from someone at NASA.
How do we know this. Well, the 97-year-old's grandson got him to participate in an "ask me anything" session at Reddit, and transcribed the answers as he said them. Here's what he said about Apollo 13:
"All the engineers and everybody else at NASA in Houston were working hard at recovering the moonshot, and they were in real trouble, weren't sure they could get it back. They got a phone call from a grad student at MIT who said he knew how to get them back. They put engineers on it, tested it out, by God it worked. Slingshotting them around the moon. They successfully did."
So why don't we know about this MIT student today?
"They wanted to present the grad student to the President and the public, but they found him and he was a real hippy type—long hair and facial hair. NASA was straight-laced, and this was different than they expected, so they withdrew the invitation to the student. I think that is a disgrace."
Though Reddit users called on the retiree to name the grad student, he hasn't yet, and as a result some readers are now combing the Internet for any information that might lead them to the unsung hero of Apollo 13.
For more cool NASA stories, including some about Apollo 11, you can read the whole transcript of the conversation over at Reddit.