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  • Writer's pictureApril Blackwell

Revisiting Odyssey

A few weeks ago I posted a checklist of all the retired NASA crew vehicles on Instagram. Decades of space obsession and fortunate travel have allowed me to see quite a few (but not all!) of the artifacts, several more than once. Heck, even our wedding was in the shadow of a Saturn V rocket and adjacent to the Apollo 16 command module (#nerds). But there is something extra special about sharing these incredible machines, these tiny human habitats that took their inhabitants further than humanity had ever gone before, with my kids.

Honestly, it's quite the challenge, for me and them. Here I am with years of education and experience specifically about the vehicle we are staring at, trying to find the words to describe it to someone who barely has 6 years of experience being alive on this planet! And them, staring at this ....thing, large but not too large, layered with different materials and exposure to harsh environments, dated gauges and switches defining the interior topography, and a story that seems too incredible to be true. We are all in awe but from different angles.

You can see the Apollo 13 command module, Odyssey, at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS!

I am especially drawn to this capsule for so many reasons -- she is famous, she traveled to the moon's orbit, she proved superstition true. But, my real obsession and connection, is her name: Odyssey.

Definition of odyssey

1: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune

The crew's mission, a mere six days, was one of the most (if not THE most) daring voyages in all of human spaceflight. Intended to deliver the crew to the moon's orbit in preparation for what would have been the third lunar landing in history, the mission priorities shifted significantly on day three when an oxygen tank exploded. Instead of a lunar landing, the crew and the flight controllers in Houston started work on making just an Earth landing successful.

The crew's changing fortune meant the opportunity to land on the moon was gone, they had to get creative in order to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, and they had to repower only the essential equipment required to reenter safely. By the end, the entire planet was on the voyage with them, holding a collective breath during the reentry blackout and praying for a gentle splashdown.

And while I've stood in front of Odyssey before, many years ago, my own waves of fortune hit me as I contemplated the life voyage that brought me to this great ship once again. My personal oxygen tank explosion, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, altered my life's trajectory, changed the mission's ground rules, and forced me to come up with creative solutions. The life-checklists I prepared prior to age 11 were thrown out, replaced with handwritten markups about long-term effects and side-of-the-page math to calculate precise carbohydrate counts. My muscle memory wasn't sufficient here. It would take my completely unrelated passion, to become an astronaut, to pull me through this ultimate, unexpected anomaly.

I know there are teams of people on the figurative-ground working around the clock to identify solutions but ultimately, it’s me who has to execute, to survive. The technology, while impressive, is just a temporary solution.... it’s not a cure. It's a coping mechanism, it’s the improvised CO2 scrubber, it’s the harsh internal spacecraft conditions, it’s the altered trajectory that doesn't include a moon landing.

So, Odyssey, you remind me to keep fighting, to carry on when fortunes change, to recognize that it’s the long, wandering voyages that are the most memorable. 💙

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