Apollo 13 was launched at Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970. The mission report devotes a considerable amount -- over 7 pages -- to a set of electrical measurements at the launch site:

The separate experiments consisted of measurements of the atmospheric electric field, low-frequency and very-low-frequency radio noise, the air/earth current density, and the electrical current flowing in the earth's surface

No mission before or since has studied electrical phenomena at the launch site to such detail. Why was so much data collected with Apollo 13 for this purpose?

I am hoping that some steely-eyed missile man can provide an answer.

This is the first of a series of questions honoring the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, "NASA's finest hour".


According to an article from the Lunar and Planetary Institute (archive.org link):

As a result of the electrical disturbances experienced during the Apollo 12 launch, several experiments were performed prior to and during the launch of Apollo 13 to study certain aspects of launch-phase electrical phenomena. Measurements taken indicated a significant separation of electrical charge that could possibly increase the hazards of marginal weather launches.

The prior moon mission, Apollo 12, was struck by lightning, twice, during the initial ascent. The lightning strike shut down the electrical system of the spacecraft briefly, but the Saturn V launcher itself was unaffected, and continued safely to orbit while the spacecraft was getting back into operation, thanks to the quick thinking of "steely-eyed missile man" John Aaron, as addressed in another QA on the site.

Understandably, investigating atmospheric electrical phenomena around rocket launch was of some interest immediately following Apollo 12!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Correct! Might be worth explaining the reference to "steely-eyed missile man." $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Apr 11 '20 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ P sure we've had QAs on the Apollo 12 incident; I'll find a good one to link rather than rehashing it here. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Apr 11 '20 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ One such: space.stackexchange.com/q/30073/6944 $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 11 '20 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ You are our steely-eyed missile man! $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Apr 11 '20 at 18:25

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