Apollo 13.0: Digitizing Astronaut Jack Swigert's Apollo Documents

The following chapter excerpt is from the fourth section of Digitization in the Real World; "One Plus One is Greater Than Two: Collaborative Projects."  Download the entire chapter for free (PDF)  or purchase the book online at Amazon.com. 

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Andrew Weiss (Fort Hays State University, Forsyth Library)


The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center and Fort Hays State University Forsyth Library joined together in 2008 to digitize the personal archive of Apollo 13 astronaut John L. (Jack) Swigert. The documents (1966-1970) include blueprints and proofs of the Apollo Operations handbook Malfunction Procedures, which Swigert was called upon to revise in the aftermath of the Apollo 1 disaster in early 1967. The partnership between the KCSC and Forsyth Library has been fruitful in the area of public relations and dissemination of digital collections online. Some of the obstacles related to the partnership have yielded positive results. As a result of the partnership we created a standard for uniform file names for Forsyth’s Digital Collections, in adopting and customizing Goddard Core, a variation of Dublin Core, and in developing an External Partnership Protocol to improve future collaborative projects.


We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

--T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

While orbiting the moon in 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders photographed Earthrise, one of the iconic images of the Apollo missions. Fragile and tiny, the earth appears “almost as a disk” in a dark void and concretely shows that humans are more miniscule than imagined (Brooks, Grimwood & Swenson, 1979, p. 277). Although later missions would overshadow Apollo 8, including the successful moon-landing of Apollo 11 and the successful failure of Apollo 13, the lasting legacy of this mission was a sudden appreciation for the Earth itself (Brooks et al., 1979, p. 366). The irony that a photograph of the Earth would become one of the most lasting images of the Apollo Program was not lost on the astronauts.  Anders later remarked, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth” (Dordain, 2009, para. 6).

This image, later adopted by environmentalists, eventually contributed to the general zeitgeist that the mundane should take precedence over impractical dreams. Indeed, once an American had walked on the moon—as much a display of American real-politik might as a display of American ingenuity—public and political interest in the Apollo Program waned. By 1973 its funding was on its last legs and never again would the Apollo Program send an astronaut to the moon (McKie, 2008) (Brooks et al., 1979, p. 366). Yet if media coverage is any indication of an issue’s timeliness, the 40th anniversary of the successful moon landing in 2009 proves that the spirit of the time remains vital. General interest in space exploration remains high among specialists and the general public alike. Furthermore, the improvement of digital technology is allowing us unprecedented access to the primary materials of important historical events, making the discoveries of the time even more immediate as they appear online.  In essence, this is an exciting time to revisit the solid-state era of the Space Race of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s through the power of digital technology.

In its partnership with the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center (KCSC) to digitize the papers of John L. (Jack) Swigert, Fort Hays State University’s Forsyth Library has had the privilege to work with documents of great importance to American and world history. At the same time we find ourselves looking inward and realize that an emphasis on the “mundane” still proves to be important. As a result of our work, we realize the need for a strong foundation in the development of sound policies and best practices that can work in reality. As the Apollo astronauts discovered, the point of a journey is not always to arrive; it’s to find out where you’ve been.

Read the rest of the chapter for free (PDF) or purchase the book online at Amazon.com.


Barbour, J. (1969). Footprints on the moon. New York: American Book-Stratford Press.

Bilstein, R. (1996). Stages to Saturn. Washington D.C.: NASA.

Brooks, C., Grimwood, J., & Swenson, L. (1979). Chariots for Apollo: A history of manned lunar spacecraft. Washington D.C.: NASA.

Dordain, J. (2009). International cooperation in space. Universities Space-Research Association. Retrieved November 1, 2009, from http://www.usra.edu/galleries/default-file/09Symp_Dordain.pdf

Goddard Library (2005, September 15). Goddard core. The Goddard Library. Retrieved November 10, 2009, from http://library.gsfc.nasa.gov/mrg/Goddard_Core.htm

Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. (2009). History. Kansas Cosmosphere and space center. Retrieved November 10, 2009, from http://www.cosmo.org/mu_history.htm

McKie, R. (2008, November 30). The mission that changed everything. The Observer. Retrieved November 2, 2009, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/nov/30/apollo-8-mission

North Carolina ECHO (2009). Digitization guidelines chapter 5: metadata. North Carolina ECHO, Exploring Cultural Heritage Online. Retrieved November 1, 2009, from http://www.ncecho.org/dig/guide_5metadata.shtml

Orloff, R. (2004). Apollo by the numbers: a statistical reference. Retrieved November 14, 2009, from http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4029/Apollo_01a_Summary.htm