The movie Apollo 13 illustrated the true fact that some items which were not intended to be returned to Earth were brought back anyway, to compensate for weight which would not be returned. However, a few items went in the opposite direction: they were originally intended to be returned to Earth, but were instead transferred to the lunar module before jettison. Why were the following items discarded?

  • stowage containers B5 and B6
  • sample return containers 1 and 2

(Source: Apollo 13 stowage lists)

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

  • $\begingroup$ It may be worth noting that the "off course because of no moon rocks" business in the movie is nonsense. Each propulsive maneuver was adjusted with RCS if necessary to get the correct change in speed, and the mass of an object coasting in space has no significant impact on its trajectory. $\endgroup$ Apr 16, 2020 at 18:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove: Yes, it's another example of the movie simplifying the issue for the viewer. As described in the Apollo Flight Journal, the real issue was getting the weight distribution correct, so the spacecraft would have the correct re-entry angle in the atmosphere. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Apr 16, 2020 at 20:40

1 Answer 1


Both items have backstories.

Stowage containers B5 and B6 had contained the square command module lithium hydroxide canisters, which were used up in the LiOH adapter to filter the air. They tried to put a TV camera in B6, but it didn't fit. The containers were then empty and took up space that could be used for more valuable items.

The sample return containers were located in the MESA drawer on the base of the lunar module, outside the cabin. Had the accident not occurred, they would have been brought back to Earth full of moon rocks. After the accident, retrieving them would have required a spacewalk. It wasn't worth the risk.

(Technically, the sample return containers were never moved, but the stowage list needed to be updated to properly account for the change.)


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