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The Ballad of Apollo XIII

This song is by Julia Ecklar and appears on the compilation Minus Ten and Counting (1983).

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There's legends galore in the pulp SF lore
'Bout shipwrecks of spacecraft a-spacing
When meteor holes come 'tween men and their goals
By demolishing ships that they're racing

Painting pictures with words like none you'd ever heard
SF writers made frightening predictions
But the terrors they tell cannot equal the hell
Faced by three men in fact, and non-fiction
To April 11, Nine-teen Seventy now
We must let our narrative carry us
Three men in a C.S.M named Odyssey
Beneath them, the L.M named Aquarius

With a furious roar, Saturn leapt for the sky
With Jack Swigart, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell
Toward a planned rendezvous that would never come true
With the grey lunar gravel and rubble
Still, they set up housekeeping in orbit, 'round Earth
And translunar insertion was kindled
But the public just yawned, for this landing was third
And behind them old Terra slow dwindled

Apollo XIII traveled on down the track laid down by the three laws Of Newton
At fifty-six hours into lunar bound coast
Lovell said, "Houston, we have a problem"
Now, they might have been struck by a meteorite
Maybe something had just overloaded
But their panels went red with their malfunction lights
And in Odyssey something exploded

That blast blocked or ruptured their fuel cell line
Their electrical energy faltered
With no hope at all of a rescue in time
Thirteen's mission profile had just altered
To physics and God they commended their lives
For no power on Earth now could save them
Although NASA let the men talk with their wives
Of goodbyes there was never a mention

Three men in a CSM bound for the Moon
Reached two hundred and six thousand miles
Did they have enough air to get all the way there?
Could they trust what they read on their dials?
And when they reached Luna, could they change course for home
Would she trap them, or loose them at random
Untested advice and contingency plans
Were the only things NASA could hand them

When Apollo 13 crossed the limb of the moon
And death came from the receivers
We knew the next signal would speak of their doom
Or answer the faith of believers
"Apollo Thirteen, This is Houston, Do you read?"
Dear god let them answer us quickly
The world held its breath and in mission control
Every screen lit a face pale and sickly

"Apollo Thirteen, this is Houston. Do you read?"...
That empty sound stretched on for years
"Houston... This is Thirteen... We're coming home!" said a voice
And the world found relief in its tears

At T plus one hundred and thirty-eight hours
They jettisoned Odyssey's wreckage
That module was shattered and blasted apart
A symbol of death in the space age
Aquarius served as their lifeboat to shore
Till they knew they would no longer need her
At T plus one hundred and forty-one hours
With a deep prayer of "Thank You" they freed her

Ed, Roger, and Gus must have smiled on those days
Knowing theirs was the path not to follow
But their souls were with Swigart and Lovell and Haise
Riding home on the thirteenth Apollo
At T plus one hundred forty-three fifty-four
Apollo XIII hit the waters
Three men returned home, shaken up, but alive
To their wives and their sons and their daughters!

There's legends galore in the pulp SF lore
'Bout shipwrecks of spacecraft a-spacing
But all of them now do cause men to reflect
On three days when the world's heart went racing
Painting pictures with words all too few people heard
SF writers could make their predictions
But always recall that in spite of them all
The truth was much greater than fiction

Yes always recall that, that in spite of them all
The truth must be greater than fiction

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