It was 50 years ago Monday (April 13) that the Apollo 13 crew famously told NASA: "Houston, we've had a problem." You can celebrate the "successful failure" with a NASA documentary and other activities online.
On April 13, 1970, three astronauts on their way to the moon experienced an explosion in the service module of their spacecraft. To survive, they had to abandon their lunar-landing plans and make a four-day trip home with less oxygen and water than was ideal.
Luckily, the efforts of NASA's Mission Control and teams around the world brought Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise home safely. Haise and Lovell are still alive; Swigert died of cancer in 1982.
But NASA will not hold any in-person events to commemorate the mission, due to the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus. That said, there are numerous ways you can follow the mission and celebrate the anniversary online.
New NASA documentary
You can watch NASA's "Apollo 13: Home Safe" on Space.com at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 April 11 GMT).
NASA will premiere the documentary "Apollo 13: Home Safe" on Friday (April 10) at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT Saturday, April 11) on the NASA YouTube channel and live on NASA Television. The official trailer alludes to "bad omens" from the beginning of the mission, which presumably references a last-minute crew swap due to exposure to the German measles and the fact that the mission was branded as unlucky because 13 is considered a traditionally unlucky number in Western culture. (Compounding the "13" fears, the mission lifted off at 1:13 p.m. local time — that's 13:13 p.m. — on launch day.)
The 30-minute program includes interviews with Lovell and Haise, as well as Mission Control flight directors Gene Kranz and Glynn Lunney, among others. Archival footage will also be included. Make sure to tune into NASA TV frequently during the mission's anniversary dates (between April 11 and April 17) to receive pop-ups indicating mission milestones.
The Apollo 13 crew: Who's who
- Jim Lovell: Apollo 13 commander
- Jack Swigert: Apollo 13 command module pilot
- Fred Haise: Apollo 13 lunar module pilot
Apollo 13 in Real Time
NASA contractor Ben Feist put together an incredible project called "Apollo 13 in Real Time," which is a searchable website filled with photographs, transcripts, film and audio from the mission. You can choose to experience the mission in real time, or scroll through the content for whatever moments interest you.
The site features about 17,000 hours of audio recorded inside Mission Control as well as video from NASA press conferences. The project also, for the first time, syncs some previously silent mission control footage with audio from the archives. Most of the flight control audio tapes were digitized with help from the University of Texas, Dallas, with five additional tapes digitized by NASA after they were found with the help of the National Archives.
Apollo 13 timeline: The hectic days of NASA's 'successful failure' to the moon
Social media updates
If you prefer to use social media to celebrate the anniversary, NASA has you covered there too. You can ask the agency questions on Twitter using the hashtag #AskNASA; some questions will be answered real-time on social media, while others may be addressed during an upcoming #AskNASA episode about the mission (air time to be announced).
Other platforms will also celebrate. NASA's Instagram account will feature Part 1 of "Apollo 13 by the Numbers" on Friday (April 10) and Part 2 on Saturday (April 11); NASA describes the feature as a "visual recap of the mission as told by the NASA History office." NASA's Tumblr account will release images and multimedia on Monday (April 13) and NASA's History Facebook account also has special content planned for the anniversary week.
Stunning 4K views
Some of us prefer images over text. You can see recreated views of the moon as the Apollo 13 crew would have seen it on their journey home via the far side of the moon. (After the explosion, NASA determined it was safer to have the crew take a longer way home and use the moon to slingshot back to Earth, instead of using a potentially damaged engine to turn around more quickly.)
These views are based on data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been gathering high-definition views of the moon since 2009. "These visualizations, in 4K resolution, depict many different views of the lunar surface, starting with Earthset and sunrise and concluding with the time Apollo 13 reestablished radio contact with mission control," NASA said in a statement.
"Houston, We Have A Podcast"
NASA's Johnson Space Center's long-running feature "Houston, We Have A Podcast" borrows its name from the famous line uttered during the Apollo 13 mission, but usually covers human spaceflight more generally. For the anniversary, however, the producers naturally pivoted to covering Apollo 13 and the show will air interviews with Lovell and Haise. The astronauts, NASA said in the same statement, will "reflect on the highlights of their expansive careers and share wisdom gained from their famous mission on its 50th anniversary."
Video recordings, imagery and archival materials
There is also a wealth of other multimedia available online. Apollo 13 in-flight video recordings include television transmissions (kinescopes) from the crew to Earth, which have since been converted to digital files. You can download Apollo 13 imagery from NASA's image and video library, or the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, a volunteer-created site managed by NASA's History Office.
If you want to share Apollo 13 with an online audience, NASA has presentation slides available. NASA's History Office also has several Apollo-themed books available online, which you can find by searching the word "Apollo." The Internet Archive hosts still more Apollo audio and video, and NASA also has information about the Apollo program in general on the Apollo 50th Anniversary website.
Other Apollo 13 resources
If you have a small budget available, you can also pick up other Apollo 13 resources — such as movies or books by some of the major players. Many people were introduced to the mission through the successful 1995 Hollywood film "Apollo 13," which is available on Amazon Prime.
An indie mini-film called "Thanksgiving with the Kranzes" (2007) spoofs the movie with a fictional account of the astronauts and Mission Controllers gathering for Thanksgiving post-mission … only to experience more problems with dinner.
There have been numerous Apollo 13 documentaries over the decades, so here are a couple to whet your appetite: Last year, National Geographic aired a documentary (and hosted associated footage) about the Apollo missions in general, called "Apollo: Missions to the Moon." The Smithsonian Channel's 2010 documentary, "Apollo 13: The Real Story," may be available on your local cable provider; check here for how to find it.
Here are a few books you can pick up on Amazon Kindle or via audiobook from the comfort of your home:
- Apollo 13 (originally titled "Lost Moon," available on Kindle or Audible): This account of the mission, coauthored by Lovell and journalist Jeffrey Kluger, inspired the Hollywood film. The authors chose to tell the story from the third person to represent the fact that Apollo 13's participants included people around the world working on the rescue effort.
- A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (Audible only): Journalist Andrew Chaikin interviewed almost every Apollo astronaut (except the long-deceased Jack Swigert) to inform his account of every mission, including Apollo 13.
- Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond (Kindle only): This autobiography of Kranz, one of the principal flight directors, includes the account of Apollo 13 from his point of view. The title "Failure is Not an Option" is borrowed from a line in the movie Apollo 13 uttered by the fictional Kranz (played by Ed Harris); Kranz himself never said those words.
Numerous other Apollo 13-themed Kindle and audiobooks are available at this Amazon link.
- Failure was not an option: NASA's Apollo 13 mission of survival in pictures
- Apollo 13: The moon mission that dodged disaster
- NASA's 17 Apollo moon missions in pictures
For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.