The Ballad of Apollo XIII

As sung by Julia Ecklar on YouTube

Words: William Warren,
Music: “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

There’s legends galore in the pulp SF lore
‘Bout shipwrecks of spacers a-spacin’,
When meteor holes come ‘tween men and their goals
By demolishing ships that they’re racin’.

Painting pictures with words like none you’ve ever heard,
SF writers made frightening predictions.
But the terrors they tell cannot equal the hell
Faced by three men in fact, and not fiction.

To April 11, 1970, now,
We must let our narrative carry us.
Three men in a C-S-M named Odyssey;
Beneath them, the LEM named Aquarius.

With a furious roar, Saturn leapt for the sky
With Jack Swiggart, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell,
Toward a planned rendezvous that would never come true
With the gray lunar gravel and rubble.

Still, they set up housekeeping in orbit ’round Earth,
Then translunar insertion was kindled,
But the public just yawned, for their landing was third,
And behind them old Terra slow dwindled.

Apollo XIII travelled on down the track
Laid down by the three laws of Newton.
At fifty-six hours into lunar bound coast,
Lovell said, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Now they may have been struck by a meteorite.
Maybe something had just overloaded.
But their panels went red with their malfunction lights
And in Odyssey something exploded.

That blast blocked or ruptured their fuel cell lines;
Their electrical energy faltered.
With no hope at all of a rescue in time
Thirteen’s mission profile had altered.

To physics and God they commended their lives,
For no power on earth could have saved ‘em.
Although NASA let the men talk with their wives,
Of goodbyes there was never a mention.

Three men in a C-S-M bound for the Moon
Reached two hundred and six thousand miles.
Did they have enough air to get all the way there?
Could they trust what they read on their dials?

And when they reached Luna, could they change course for home?
Would she trap them, or loose them at random?
Untested advice and contingency plans
Were the only things NASA could hand ‘em.

When Apollo XIII crossed the limb of the Moon
And death came from the receivers
We knew the next signal would speak of their doom
Or answer the faith of believers.

“Apollo Thirteen, this is Houston. Do you read?”
Dear God, let them answer us quickly.
The world held its breath, and in Mission Control
Every screen lit a face pale and sickly.

“Apollo Thirteen, this is Houston. Do you read?”
That empty sound stretched on for years.
“Houston… This is Thirteen… We’re coming home!” said a voice,
And the world found relief in its tears.

At T plus one hundred and thirty-eight hours
They jettisoned Odyssey’s wreckage.
That module was shattered and blasted apart–
A symbol of death in the space age.

Aquarius served as their lifeboat to shore,
‘Til they knew they would no longer need her.
At T plus one hundred and forty-one hours,
With a deep prayer of “Thank you!” they freed her.

Ed, Roger, and Gus must have smiled on those days,
Knowing theirs was the path not to follow.
But their souls were with Swiggart and Lovell and Haise
Riding home on the thirteenth Apollo.

At T plus one hundred forty-three, fifty-four
Apollo XIII hit the waters.
Three men returned home, shaken up, but alive,
To their wives and their sons and their daughters!

There’s legends galore in the pulp SF lore,
But all of them now do cause men to reflect
On three days when the world’s hearts went racing.

Painting pictures with words all too few people heard,
SF writers could make their predictions,
But always recall that, in spite of them all,
The truth was much greater than fiction.

Yes, always recall that, in spite of them all,
The truth must be greater than fiction.

Tags: ecklar, filk, space

This entry got more hits than any of my others, so I am putting it on a separate page.

2 Responses to “The Ballad of Apollo XIII”

  1. Apollo 13 « FoundOnWeb Says:

    […] have updated my Ballad of Apollo 13 page with a YouTube audio performance by Julia Ecklar. Share this:TwitterFacebookRedditLike […]

  2. Ballad of Apollo 13 « FoundOnWeb Says:

    […] and music have been moved to here Includes a performance by Julia Ecklar. Share this:TwitterFacebookRedditLike this:LikeBe the first […]

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