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Russ College dean shares the science of Apollo 13 at unique screening

Megan Reed | Apr 24, 2017
Russ College dean shares the science of Apollo 13 at unique screening

Russ College dean shares the science of Apollo 13 at unique screening

Megan Reed | Apr 24, 2017

Ohio University and Athens community members filled the Athena Cinema Tuesday night for a special screening of the 1995 film “Apollo 13,” paired with a talk by Russ College of Engineering and Technology Dean and electrical engineer Dennis Irwin.

Irwin – a longtime faculty member of International Space University, which held its Space Studies Program at Ohio University in 2015 – previously worked for Logicon Control Dynamics Company, where he was a program manager for projects sponsored by NASA. He titled the talk “Drama in a Time of Turmoil” and provided context about the social climate at the time of the Apollo 13 mission.

“A lot of things were going on in the world, and that’s the turmoil part,” Irwin said. “Then we have this drama that ended so well that I think it actually brought a lot of optimism at a time when there wasn’t much to be optimistic about in the world.”

The film depicts the drama of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, which was planned to be the third human landing on the Moon. After an explosion on board, the crew was forced to return to Earth without making a lunar landing.

Irwin explained how the crew and the engineers had to make many difficult decisions – one of which was to not use the “time critical abort,” which would have returned the mission to Earth the quickest but could have endangered everyone on board. Engineers in Houston spent several days running calculations to find a way to reduce power usage on the ship, but many of the possible solutions were deemed safety risks for the astronauts.

“The solutions required some things that were not going to be possible to return the astronauts to Earth alive,” Irwin said. “We could have gotten the hardware back, but we could not have gotten live astronauts back.”

Fred Haise, one of the astronauts in the Apollo 13 mission, provided a comment for the Science on Screen event that Irwin shared with the audience.

“All the Apollo missions had problems of some sort that had to be solved for the success of the mission,” Haise said. “Two missions, Apollo 14 and 16, almost were aborted, but Apollo 13 stands out to dramatically display the teamwork in flight and on the ground that worked together to overcome challenges and enable a good ‘Hollywood’ ending to the movie.”

The free event was part of the national Science on Screen program, an initiative of the Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, with local support from Arts for Ohio. The program pairs screenings of classic, cult, science or documentary films with presentations and discussions led by experts in technology and science.