Posted in American History, history, movie reviews, space history

Apollo 13 – Film and History

I wrote this yesterday with the intent of posting it, but various life things happened that means it gets pushed off till today.  So here’s the belated Article:

As I have stated in several posts, my favorite movie is Apollo 13. It is the dramatization of the real life story of the Apollo 13 Lunar mission that went horribly wrong in April of 1970.  Today while reading my email, I got a list of today’s historical events, and it reminded me that today in 1970, they finally made it back to earth.  So I decided to write about the Apollo 13 mission and the movie in general.

The movie is mostly accurate, with a few details changed for dramatic (well, movie dramatic) effect.  However, the writers and producers of the film were interested in making it as close as possible. After all, sitting in a space ship hoping you’d get home after the oxygen tank explodes is a pretty interesting story.

Apollo 13 was the 8th manned mission in the Apollo series.  Apollo 1 had ended tragically in 1967.   It took a two year review, and several changes to the Apollo spacecraft before they were manned again.  Apollo missions 2-6 were unmanned tests of the spacecraft, after it had been decided that the Apollo 1 identity would not be moved to the new mission.  Therefore, the first Apollo mission that was manned and made it to space was Apollo 7, which orbited the earth.  Apollo 8 went a step further and orbited the moon itself.  This mission also had James Lovell involved, who was also involved in 13.  Apollo 9 and 10 practiced lunar landing procedures.  And Apollo 11, which is perhaps the most famous of American space flights, took us to the Moon.

Apollo 13 took off on April 11, 1970, a little over 3 years after Apollo 1, and only 9 months after Apollo 11.  It was manned by James Lovell (Commander), Jack Swigert (Command Module Pilot) and Fred Haise (Lunar Module Pilot).  The Apollo capsule was only large enough to fit three men, unlike the later Space Shuttle craft.  Through a small connecting tunnel, they connected to the Lunar Module (also known as the LEM – Lunar Excursion Module) which would become the life raft that kept these three men alive during the four days it took to get home.

On April 13, 1970 shortly after recording a television transmission the three astronauts felt a jolt and soon realised that their spacecraft was venting out into space.  I’ve included a link below to the wikipedia page, where there is a audio recording of the famous “houston we have a problem” report.   What had occured is when Jack Swigert went to do a routine stirring of the tanks to keep the liquid fuel/oxygen from freezing, the temperture gauge in the oxygen tank was broken.  It overheated the tank, and the tank exploded.  This was due to a issue that developed during pre-launch checks which was not realised until after a review board looked at all the evidence.

They spent the next four days in the LEM, using the oxygen tanks and fuel tanks that would have sent them to the moon to keep themselves alive and target their way back home.  This had been a contingenoucy plan developed previously but this was the first time it was ever attempted, and various problems surfaced during the four days that the astronauts and the men in Mission control had to solve.

The film dramatizes some of it, changing up some of the words said by the astronauts and introducing a few scenes that were never documented by anyone to fill out some of the characters reactions.  But overall the film is fairly accurate for a biopic.  They even used archive footage of a launch to use with CGI to create the launch scene in the movie, and used actually low gravity in some of the scenes where you see them float for more of a real effect.   So while its definately a movie, not a documentary, it is pretty well done.

The film was nominated for Best Picture in 1994, but lost to Braveheart.  It did win Best Editing, and Best Sound.  It is one of my favorite movies still, over 20 years after it was released.  You can stream it on Amazon, it is available for both purchase and rental.  It used to be on Hulu but right now I can’t find it to confirm.

The film was based on James Lovell’s novel called Lost Moon which was renamed Apollo 13 when the film came out.  It’s a great read as well, especially if you are interested about the space program.  It not only covers the Apollo 13 mission, but Lovell’s earlier missions and interactions with other astronauts.

I also recommend the Tom Hanks mini-series From the Earth to the Moon.  It is a great dramatization of the real events of the Space Program and also has some great actors in it.

Apollo 13 Wikipedia

Apollo 13 – NASA Website

Apollo 13 Film Wikipedia

To The Earth From The Moon



A thirty-something Graphic Designer and writer who likes to blog about books, movies and History.

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