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Apollo 13

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AS13-59-8500A (17 April 1970) — This view of the severely damaged Apollo 13 Service Module (SM) was photographed from the Lunar Module/Command Module (LM/CM) following SM jettisoning. (NASA)

In the midst of everything else going on right now, it’s also the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission, and I’m going to use this as an excuse to write about something a bit different: let’s share some geeky space and technology podcasts.

Apollo in Real Time. These are exceptionally cool resources on Apollos 11, 13, and 17. You can listen to any number of different recorded loops in mission control (including the various flight controllers and their “backroom” support staffs), communications between the spacecraft and mission control, or communications on board the spacecraft itself. While not podcasts per se, these reflect an absurd amount of work and detail.

Apollo 13 Real-time. The Apollo 13 instalment of the above was only just released within the last month, in order to correspond with the 50th anniversary of the same. This link is easier to digest, as it includes only two audio loops (the CAPCOM loop between mission control and the spacecraft, and the Flight Director’s loop) and is limited to the roughly six hours around the initial explosion (it starts eight minutes before, and extends to six hours and ten minutes after).

Brady Heywood podcast. Heywood is a forensic engineer and covers several engineering disasters in this intermittent podcast, and it includes a six part series on Apollo 13. His series hews closely to the Lovell and Kluger (1994) book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13.

Omega Tau. I learned about the Heywood podcast through listening to Omega Tau. Half of the podcasts are in English, half in German, and it makes me wish my understanding of German was better than just enough to scrape by with in a brewery or pub. Markus Völter, Nora Ludewig and their team have several excellent instalments on the Apollo missions, as well as one on Gemini (more often than not featuring the work of David Woods). The archive demonstrates that the subjects of Omega Tau tends to be slanted towards flight, so you’ll find a wide range of commercial and (more likely) military aircraft.

The Space Above Us. This is a more approachable series predicated on a simple, yet comprehensive idea: every crewed NASA mission will have its own podcast (and on rare occasion, two). The host, JP Burke, has been at this for nearly four years, starting with a couple introductory podcasts which then lead in to the the first Alan Shepherd Mercury mission. In addition to Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, it also covered the two X-15 flights that crossed the Kármán line, and is now on the 33rd Space Shuttle mission.

13 Minutes to the Moon. This has come highly recommended, and I have to admit to not having listened to this one yet, strange as it’s BBC. The second “season” of this podcast is dedicated to Apollo 13. It’s on the list.

I’m confident that this list just scratches the surface, but I’m still relatively new to this subculture of podcasts, and it provides a politics free escape. Well, not entirely, because it does make me wistfully over sentimentalise the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo era as an example when the United States actually did something good. Even though that “good” took a herculean amount of cash (diverted from other uses) and political will (and in the era I’m discussing, not only in the astronaut corps but also the front line mission controllers, all was exclusively male and near exclusively white), motivated solely by the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. All that aside . . .

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