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From “Lusitânia” (1922) to Apolo 13 (1969): A Legacy

We are in the commemoration of another anniversary of the “Great Leap” between Cape Verde and the Penedos de S. Pedro and S. Paulo, (11h30 flight, 1700 km), which was only possible due to the precision astronomical navigation methods developed by Gago Coutinho. A tiring flight, in an unstable plane, piloted by the steady hand of Sacadura Cabral, over an empty ocean, with no FTT nor any outside help. Except the sun …
We ponder on the benefits, for Humanity, of the navigation methods developed by Gago Coutinho. From this flight, it was possible to be sure of reaching, by plane, any point in the world, from its geographical coordinates.
When space was reached, astronomical navigation continued to guide men. The sextant was also part of the satellites.
April 17th marks two events: the unfortunate docking of the “Lusitania” in Penedos and the happy docking of Apollo 13 in the Pacific. What do they have in common?
– Astronomical navigation, pre-prepared navigation methods before departure, and the use of celestial bodies to find the point of arrival. And the courage of men.
Not being able to use the sextant on board Apollo 13, due to the amount of debris around the capsule, after the fuel cell exploded, the entire spacecraft was used to take aim over the Earth (on the dividing line between the light and dark parts of the Earth).
Before the flight, a TRW employee had thought, “how to navigate in space if the stars are not visible?”
This was the idea “that didn’t even occur to the devil”, as no one could understand how it could ever happen …
However, the proposal to develop the programme was accepted by NASA, it was tested, and was available to bring the spacecraft back.
The intellectual daring of Coutinho, and the courage of Sacadura allowed the achievement of the 1st Air Crossing of the South Atlantic.
47 years later, three men in space and an anonymous international team on Earth allowed the safe return of Apollo 13.
The same spirit, but with a flagrant difference in means.
To learn more about the Apollo 13 episode, seethe series article published by Nancy Atkinson in “UniverseToday”:

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