Apollo 13, NASA’s “most successful failure”, was launched forty years ago today. One thing I didn’t know about the timing of the accident is the fact that the tank rupture occurred on the fifth stirring of the oxygen tank, which normally would have taken place 120 hours into the mission, when the lunar module was already on the Moon’s surface. Without the lunar module to serve as a lifeboat, the fate of the spacecraft would have been sealed. However, an unrelated sensor problem caused them to stir the tank more frequently, causing the accident to occur earlier.
Had the crew of Apollo 13 died in space, it has long been assumed that their spacecraft would have served as a frozen tomb for their bodies, orbiting the Sun. But now, some argue that the orbit of Apollo 13 was such that it would have returned to the Earth and burned up in the atmosphere just a few weeks later. I am not sure how you can really tell, with uncontrolled gas leaks, a tumbling spacecraft, and no precision radio-metric navigation data.