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Apollo 13 Augmented reality Aviation Blog

Apollo 13 - the proto-AR scenario

By Geof Wheelwright on July 12, 2017

 The work done by the on-board and ground crew of the famous Apollo 13 abortive mission to the moon was a superb example of a scenario that might be called "proto AR" - and one of the great historical examples of the power of remotely empowering your team.

The mission was thrown into complete disarray at 9:08 PM on April 13, 1970 when oxygen tank No. 2 blew up and oxygen tank No. 1 also failed as a result. Shortly after that, the crew realized that the normal supply of electricity, light and water in its command module was lost. They were 200,000 miles from home – and they needed to come up with a backup plan.

Working closely with Mission Control in Houston, the crew feverishly sought to find a way to get safely home. They decided to use the lunar landing module (which was not designed for such a purpose and was really meant to only serve the needs of two astronauts while on the moon) as a "lifeboat" for the astronauts until they came close enough to Earth.

One of many tough challenges that the ground crew tackled was how to properly remove carbon dioxide from their makeshift craft. And this is where the link to augmented reality comes in.

In order to figure out how to help the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 to “scrub” the carbon dioxide from their cabin, engineers in Houston gathered in a conference room with a collection of the materials that they knew the Apollo 13 crew had on-board, and cobbled together a solution using cardboard, plastic bags and tape.

View of Mission Control Center during the Apollo 13 oxygen cell failure

The crew had to recreate the “virtual environment” aboard the ship and then communicate the instructions via radio on how to build the carbon dioxide scrubber from those raw materials. How much easier it would have been with AR!  

The story is legendary and far more complex than just this one moment. There are plenty of great books, documentaries and even a fantastic movie (starring Tom Hanks) that tell the full story.

But it’s a  fantastic illustration of the power of  remote collaboration. With a little imagination, it’s clear how the power of the augmented  reality remote collaboration capabilities might dramatically shift this kind of  scenario.

Read more about this on the NASA Web site and further applications of Augmented Reality in our recent AR Maturity Model White Paper.

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