Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
(Matthew 14:19-21 ESV)
Swigert with the rig improvised to adapt the CM's lithium hydroxide canisters for use in the LM
Fifty years ago, on the evening of Monday, April 13, 1970 Apollo 13 was on the way to the Moon, having been launched two days earlier, when an oxygen tank exploded and crippled the Command/Service Module (CSM). Mission Control began working immediately with the astronauts, Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, to understand what had happened and to develop a strategy to keep them alive and return them home safely. The scenario had not been included their preflight training, as it was not believed to be survivable.
Apollo 13 was the third planned lunar landing mission, and the world had already largely turned away from Apollo, just nine months after the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing the previous July. The Apollo 13 astronauts had just concluded a televised tour of their Lunar Module (LM), Aquarius, moments before the explosion, that none of the television networks carried. But all that changed with the news that the explosion had placed the astronauts in mortal danger.
Suddenly, the whole world was watching again and many people were praying for the astronauts’ safe return. Special prayer vigils were conducted and the Pope issued a proclamation that all people should pray. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution that all people should go to their churches and synagogues, or to pause and pray for the safe return of the astronauts.
To make it home, the astronauts had to power down the CSM and use the LM as a lifeboat. Mission Control and a number of supporting organizations developed the totally new procedures that were necessary. The safe return of the astronauts involved a number of miracles, including the miracle of stretching the LM consumables (water, air, etc.) to support three men for the four days required to get back to Earth.
Many prayed, asking God to stretch the astronauts’ consumables, as Christ himself had done some 2,000 years ago when he took the bread and two fish and fed at least 5,000 men, not counting women and children. On April 17, 1970 Mission Control erupted with cheers and the waving of American flags when the crew splashed down on target in the Pacific Ocean. In turning failure into success, the flight of Apollo 13 is one of NASA’s finest accomplishments: the best human efforts and God's miracles.
But if we admit God, must we admit Miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain. Theology says to you in effect, Admit God and with Him the risk of a few miracles, and I in return will ratify your faith in uniformity as regards the overwhelming majority of events.
C. S. Lewis