We may finally have the answer to the eternal question posed by struggling algebra students everywhere: “When will I use this in real life?” The above image is from Heritage Auctions, and what appears to be a scribbled-in math quiz is actually the work of Apollo 13 Mission Commander James Lovell. After an oxygen tank explosion left him and his crew up space creek without a paddle, Lovell wrote a series of numbers onto the checklist to chart a course toward the moon’s gravitational pull and, eventually, back to Earth.
Sorry to burst your bubble everyone, but Lovell used a pencil, not a Space Pen.
Lovell’s checklist just sold at auction for $388,375. The papers include a post-it note from Lovell, which reads, “This pub[lication] was utilized to transfer CSM guidance data to LM guidance system so the spacecraft data of our attitude with respect to the celestial sphere would not be lost. Note the time these calculations were made GET 58 08 06 about two hours after the explosion.”
Mission Commander Lovell famously had to double-check with Houston to make sure his arithmetic was all square. Here’s a NASA documentary depicting the harrowing ordeal:
Remember kids, always show your work. It may make you almost 400 grand at an auction one day.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 3, 2011