A routine stir of an oxygen tank ignited damaged wire insulation inside it, causing an explosion that vented the contents of both of the service module’s oxygen tanks to space. Without oxygen needed for breathing and for generating electric power, propulsion and life support systems could not operate. The command module systems had to be shut down to conserve its remaining resources for reentry, forcing the crew to transfer to the lunar module as a lifeboat. With the lunar landing canceled, mission controllers worked to bring the crew home alive.
Although the lunar module was designed to support two men on the lunar surface for two days, Mission Control in Houston improvised new procedures so it could support three men for four days. The crew experienced great hardship caused by limited power, a chilly and wet cabin and a shortage of potable water. There was a critical need to adapt the command module’s cartridges for the carbon dioxide scrubber system to work in the lunar module; the crew and mission controllers were successful in improvising a solution. The astronauts’ peril briefly renewed public interest in the Apollo program; tens of millions watched the splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean on television.
An investigative review board found fault with preflight testing of the oxygen tank and the fact that Teflon was placed inside it. The board recommended changes, including minimizing the use of potentially combustible items inside the tank; this was done for Apollo 14. The story of Apollo 13 has been dramatized several times, most notably in the 1995 film Apollo 13 – based on the 1994 memoir co-authored by Lovell Lost Moon - and an episode of the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.