February 27, 2014 by dontbringlulubook
Reginald Turnill died this time last year on the 12th of February. He reported one of the stranger space missions – that of Apollo 13. By 1970 the American media had got bored with the Apollo Space programme and wasn’t even broadcasting live. But Reg Turnill kept an eye on the unlucky mission. He had been the BBC’s aerospace correspondent from the beginning of the space age and through the Apollo era. He interviewed all of the Apollo astronauts and was friends with Wernher von Braun, the architect of Nasa’s moon programme. Earlier he covered the Apollo 11 moon landing and here you can see him writing a script in July 1969 with my father leaning over his left shoulder in the Mission Control Press Centre.
His biggest story kicked off late in the evening of the 13th of April. Turnill had wrapped up his day’s reports on what was the 7th moon mission and was about to leave the almost deserted press area. He was preparing to go home and happened to take a routine look-in on Mission Control. Just as he was about to leave, he heard the voice of astronaut John Swigert uttering the famously understated words: “Houston we’ve had a problem here”. Reginald Turnill broke the story to the world that Apollo 13 was in trouble.
The wonderful composite picture above (thanks to the Horzah’s Folly website) shows Reg (as my father called him) broadcasting the strange tale. The news package would have been fed up from Houston to the BBC New York office – then in Rockefeller Centre – and then sent on the satellite link after Dad had checked it. I imagine Reg looks full of chutzpah in the pic as he must have been one of the first to broadcast the story. While the U.S. networks did not bother with the story, Hollywood later returned to it recognising its worth, grossing $355 million.
Picture courtesy of Virgin Media.
The mission has been plagued with problems including the development of measles for one of the astronauts Ken Mattingley. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the Service Module upon which the Command Module depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat and shortage of potable water, the crew returned safely to Earth on April the 17th.