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ON THIS DAY

14 April 1970: Critical explosion cripples Apollo 13. An explosion on board Apollo 13 has caused one of the most critical situations in American space history and put the lives of the three astronauts on board in severe jeopardy. The explosion happened in the fuel cells of the spacecraft’s service module approximately 56 hours after lift-off. This resulted in the loss of Apollo 13’s main power supply which means oxygen and water reserves are now critically low. The safety of the three astronauts, Captain James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, is uncertain although Nasa is hoping emergency contingency plans will ensure their safe return. The cause of the explosion is not yet clear although it is understood it could have been the result of a meteorite crashing into the service module. It is unlikely the exact cause will ever be ascertained as the service module will burn up before the spacecraft’s re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. The crew are currently surviving on the emergency battery power supply of the lunar module, Aquarius. If the accident had occurred after the lunar module had been detached for the moon landing, the astronauts would have faced certain death. The spacecraft’s main computer has now been switched off to conserve what little power remains in the command module, Odyssey, as this part of the spacecraft will be required for re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Plans have been made to “slingshot” Apollo 13 around the Moon and fire the spacecraft’s last remaining booster engine to take it away from the Moon’s orbit and bring it back on course to Earth. This is a highly risky operation and there is no back-up should anything go wrong. If all goes to plan Apollo 13 is due to splash down at approximately 1900 BST on Friday 17 April. The Apollo 13 mission was to have been man’s third Moon landing. The spacecraft was due to land in the Fra Mauro area of the Moon on Thursday 16 April. Captain Lovell and Mr Haise were due to carry out geological experiments on the Moon’s surface as part of an ongoing project to establish the true age of the Moon. Rock samples taken from previous missions have been dated as being 4,500 million years old. During the 33-hour Moon landing Mr Swigert would have been responsible for piloting the command module in lunar orbit. Mr Swigert replaced Thomas Mattingly as command module pilot just hours before the mission began after it was found that Mr Mattingly had no immunity after exposure to German Measles. (Source: BBC)

17 April 1961: Exiles invade Cuba at Bay of Pigs. Reports from Cuba say the island has been invaded by counter-revolutionary forces trying to overthrow the country’s leader, Fidel Castro. The only news coming out of Cuba is broadcast by the government-run radio station. All other communications with the island have been cut. The first landing is reported to have taken place in the early hours of this morning. Broadcasts from Cuban government radio appealing for medical help indicate that the raiders have successfully penetrated 25 miles (40km) inland. They appear to have come ashore on an area of the coast known as the Bahía de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs, south-east of the capital, Havana. There is no indication as to the size of the invasion force, but Dr Castro, in a speech on Cuban government radio, said they are supported by aircraft and warships. “The glorious soldiers of the revolutionary army and the national militia are battling the enemy at all the points where they have landed,” he said. The Cuban military have been on high alert for an imminent invasion for some days. In a speech yesterday, Fidel Castro told the Cuban people he intended to resist such an attack with “an iron hand”. Cuban exiles based in the United States, who are organising the attempt to overthrow the Castro regime, say thousands of Cubans have joined the rebel forces. However, there is no independent confirmation of the level of support for the invasion from within Cuba. The leader of t

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