An electrical short in an oxygen tank caused an explosion in Apollo 13’s service module. This cylindrical module was tipped with the command module, the bell-shaped capsule that plunged through the atmosphere to return astronauts to earth. Docked to the top of the command module was the lunar module with its spindly landing legs.
For the majority of the mission to and from the moon, the crew were to reside in the command module and rely on oxygen provided by the service module. The explosion’s damage to the service module was too great, however, and the crew had to take refuge in the lunar module.
The Apollo spacecraft were segmented in this way so that after each component fulfilled its function it could be discarded, and only the command module would need to return. Principle 1 – Segmentation
Apollo 13 demonstrated another benefit of Segmentation – redundancy.
Square peg in a round hole
The astronauts would have died from carbon dioxide poisoning had it not been for quick thinking at Mission Control.
The lunar module had not been designed with three astronauts aboard for a long period, and its environmental system fell behind. The square lithium hydroxide canisters from the command module would not fit the round housing of the lunar module’s environmental system.
The team on the ground guided the astronauts through the improvised construction of a connection between the command module canister and the lunar module system using items aboard the spacecraft. Principle 5 – Merging
The construction required stripping a hose from a lunar suit and connecting it to the command module canister. The fan from the suit was redeployed to to draw carbon dioxide through the canister and expel it back as pure oxygen. This is Principle 6 – Universality, as it presses the suit fan into another purpose.
Creativity isn’t just for new products or services. Under urgent circumstances, inspiration can be found in the 40 Principles. The results can be life saving.