Apollo 13 launched from Kennedy Space Centre 50 years ago today, carrying Commander Jim Lovell, Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise and Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert.
You’ll probably know the story of this incredible, but terrifying mission thanks to the film “Apollo 13”.
But since we’re all facing such a challenge at this moment in time, we thought it might be a good idea to look a little further into this famous survival story.
At times, the odds looked insurmountable for them, too!
- In the film, Flight Director Gene Kranz’s words, “failure is not an option”, are very powerful. But he never actually said them! He did use the phrase for the title of his autobiography, though.
- Ken Mattingly was the original Command Module Pilot for Apollo 13. A week before launch, however, he was exposed to measles. As he’d never had them before (unlike his crewmates), Jack Swigert replaced him on the crew. Mattingly never developed measles . . .
- The oxygen tank that exploded 56 hours into the mission had been previously installed on Apollo 10, and had been damaged during maintenance.
- Jim Lovell never actually said Tom Hanks’ famous line, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”! It was Jack Swigert who reported the issue with the words, “uh, Houston. We’ve had a problem here”.
- The “problem” occurred when the crew flipped a switch during routine systems checks. A spark from an exposed wire in the oxygen tank caused the explosion.
- Jim Lovell actually appears in the film “Apollo 13”. He’s the captain of the USS Iwo Jima, the ship that uplifts the crew at the end of the film. Look out for him shaking Tom Hanks’ hand at the end!
- One of the most dangerous parts of the actual mission occurred when all three crew members moved into the small Lunar Module, which was acting as their “lifeboat”. NASA designed it to support the two astronauts charged with taking it down to the Moon. The extra passenger caused a dangerous build up of carbon dioxide.
- The crew couldn’t simply swap the air scrubbers from the Command Module to clean away the CO2. The two spacecraft were made by two different companies, meaning one filter was square, and the other was round! The engineers on the ground developed a way of using a sock, a urine collection bag, duct tape and a few other items to improvise a solution to make a round peg fit in a square hole!
- The only woman in Mission Control at the time was Poppy Northcutt. She worked on almost all the Apollo missions writing codes for the return-to-Earth trajectories. These were absolutely vital to the astronauts getting home. She also follows “The People’s Friend” on Twitter!
- During the filming of “Apollo 13”, the weightlessness scenes were filmed in the famous “vomit comet” — the plane used to train astronauts. Kevin Bacon struggled the most in keeping his lunch down!
- Jim Lovell’s wife, Marilyn, also appears in the film. She’s in the crowd watching the launch!
- The day the oxygen tank blew up was April 13 . . .
- Jim Lovell and Fred Haise are still going strong, and often appear at talks and space conventions! Jack Swigert died of cancer in 1982. Jim Lovell never flew in space again, and Fred Haise went on to test the approach and landing techniques of the Space Shuttle.
To find out more, listen to the podcast “13 Minutes To The Moon” by the BBC World Service.
For more from the “Friend” team, read our blog here.