HOUSTON - April 13th is the anniversary of the oxygen-tank explosion that almost turned the Apollo 13 mission into a disaster, with NASA nearly losing the mission’s three-man crew in outer space. What could’ve been a catastrophe turned into a triumph of willpower, science, and engineering to bring our astronauts home safe.
Most people know the story of Apollo 13 from the 1995 hit movie Apollo 13. The movie is generally considered fairly accurate to the real story, but there are a few differences. Here are three of the biggest:
In the movie, Mission Control furiously tries to figure out how to turn the lunar lander designed for just two people into a “lifeboat” to keep three people alive for four days. In real life, NASA already had plans in case of emergency--the tricky part was the skill it took to put them into action.
Backup astronaut Ken Mattingly gets a lot of credit in the movie for helping to support the mission back on earth, but the real Mattingly says he was attributed work that was actually done by many engineers. Of course, having one person running around figuring everything out makes for better drama.
And of course, everyone remembers the famous moment right after the explosion when Tom Hanks, playing commander Jim Lovell, says “Houston, we have a problem.” In real life it was crewmate Jack Swigert who said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
No matter how accurate the movie was, the real Apollo 13 was one of the most dramatic moments in space exploration history, and an incredible triumph for NASA in the face of disaster.