Apollo 13 Re-entry through ARIA 4
ARIA 4 (Tail number 329) had the distinction of being the first to reacquire Apollo 13 after the longer-than-expected ionisation blackout.
Captain David Dunn served as the Mission Co-ordinator onboard ARIA 4.
Audio assembly, noise-reduction and processing by Colin Mackellar.
There was heavy sidetone on the original recording, and this has been removed.
There are two audio files below – the original from David Dunn (with noise reduction),
and a mix file to give the ARIA 4 audio context.
ARIA 4 complete recording – 16.8MB mp3 runs for 69 minutes.
The Command Module Re-enters the atmosphere, is acquired by ARIA, descends on chutes, and the Recovery forces fly the crew to the USS Iwo Jima.
ARIA 4 not only acquired the spacecraft, but also served as relay for the Recovery forces.
Some time markers on the recording:
ARIA 4 mix file 6.7MB stereo mp3 file runs for 14 minutes.
This clip is an attempt to put the ARIA 4 audio in context as the Command Module nears re-entry, arrives at Entry Interface, exits blackout, and descends on chutes. It was created by synchronising several sources –
A portion of the ARIA 4 onboard audio, courtesy of David Dunn, is on the left channel.
On the right channel, in order of appearance, are –
The audio levels have been adjusted to make it easier to understand voice at various sections on the recording.
Mission Co-ordinator David Dunn names the rest of the ARIA 4 crew:
As to the positions of the ARIA aircraft as I recall:
ARIA 2 was positioned to track Apollo 13 if it reentered earlier than planned – I would guess roughly 300 NM west of the planned splashdown.
ARIA 3 and 4 flew their final runs starting approximately 100 NM East of the planned splashdown point and completing their runs at a TSP (test support position) 10 NM short of spashdown and 10 NM off of the projected ground track of Apollo 13. ARIA 2 and 3 departed the area immediately after splashedown and ARIA 4 orbited the recovery area at 31,000 feet until the Apollo crew was on the Iwo Jima.
ARIA 4 and Apollo 13 – by David Dunn:
Telex to the deployed ARIA, with the latest on the mission.
On the fateful day Apollo 13 was scheduled to return, three ARIA aircraft deployed from Fiji in support of the splashdown and recovery of the Apollo 13 mission.
All three supporting ARIA aircraft arrived at the recovery area where the recovery ship Iwo Jima, a helicopter carrier ship, was waiting to pick up the spacecraft and crew.
Word came to us that the Apollo crew had jettisoned the LEM, the Lunar Module that we later learned was so critical to their survival, and the Service Module that had been the source of their difficulty.
Then we heard of the loss of radio and tracking contact with the ground stations in Australia as the spacecraft began its reentry into the atmosphere and also as it began the period of radio blackout caused by the buildup of superheated plasma around the spacecraft from friction with the atmosphere.
The greatest concerns were for the condition of the Command Module – had the heat shield that protected the crew during reentry been damaged by the explosion in the Service Module? If not, then they might be burned up as they reentered the atmosphere. And, had they saved enough electrical power in the spacecraft batteries to fire the charges needed to deploy the drogue chutes?
So there we were listening and watching at the moment when tension was at its peak. Our HF radio circuits were set, our brand new satellite radio circuits set, and our antennas scanning as we anxiously searched for a signal from the Apollo spacecraft to let us know they had survived reentry.
It required no great imagination to know that back in the US, and in fact all around the world, folks were glued to their TV sets in anticipation, and that Walter Cronkite was holding forth with Wally Schirra on CBS, and at the Houston Space Center breathing had ceased.
But we were there, ground zero, with front row seats and we would be the first to know and the first ones to tell the rest of the world if the Apollo 13 crew had survived.
On all the aircraft and all the airwaves there was complete silence as well as we all listened intently for any signal from Apollo 13.
ARIA 2 had no report of contact; ARIA 3 also had no report.
Then I observed a signal and Jack Homan, the voice radio operator advised me we had contact.
This was my moment in the limelight as I then reported to the AOCC and to the rest of the world “ARIA 4 has AOS. ARIA 4 is GO FOR REMOTE”. And I directed Sgt Oliver, the HF Operator to connect our ground radio circuits to our spacecraft communications radios for a relay of voice traffic between Apollo 13 and the Houston Space Center.
From the Cape Kennedy Cape Comtech, Dominic Mancini, came the call: “ARIA 4, you are hot to the net!”, meaning that our communications link went direct to the Houston Space Center.
From the Houston Space Center came that faithful call, “Aquarius, this is Houston, standing by” a call relayed from Houston through our ARIA radios up to the Apollo 13 spacecraft.
From Apollo 13 came the reply “OK, Joe……” relayed again from our radios to Houston and the rest of the world. Not much, but even such a terse reply was enough to let the world know the spacecraft and its crew had survived. In an age before satellite TV, teleconferencing, and the Internet, it was easy for us in the clouds at 30,000 feet above the splashdown zone to visualize breathing resuming in Houston and around the world.
Now, exactly why would Ron Howard leave such a dramatic moment out of his film? There's a real mystery.
From that point forward our coverage became rather routine as ARIA 4 began circling overhead the recovery area and provided continuous radio coverage of communications of all the action as the Apollo 13 crew reported deployment of the spacecraft drogue chutes, as the Navy folks visually sighted the spacecraft, as the spacecraft splashed down in the water, and as the support helicopters and swimmers secured the spacecraft and brought the crew safely back to the recovery ship standing by.
ARIAs 2 and 3 were released and headed to the airfield at Pago, Pago on the island of American Samoa. When all the Astronauts were safely plucked from their spacecraft in the ocean and helicoptered back to the deck of the Iwo Jima, ARIA 4 was released and headed for Pago, Pago.
And so in just a few minutes of time the whole purpose that NASA had for supporting the ARIA program was more than justified. The ARIA aircraft provided support for all of the Apollo launches beginning with the first manned launch, Apollo 7. And the ARIA also covered countless missile and unmanned spacecraft launches for many years until their retirement.
Other photos in the ARIA section.