Skip to main content

50 years ago, Apollo 13's Jack Swigert flew to the moon, but forgot something big. Taxes.

Fifty years ago, Apollo 13 (opens in new tab) astronaut Jack Swigert forgot to do his taxes. 

(oops)

With this momentous anniversary, people around the world are celebrating the mission that has famously been remembered as a "successful failure." (opens in new tab) But, as we recall the fast thinking from NASA Mission Control and the astronauts that ensured the Apollo 13 crewmembers returned home safely, we also think back to one of the less somber moments of the mission — the time when astronaut Jack Swigert (opens in new tab) realized he hadn't filed his taxes (opens in new tab) in time for the April 15, 1970 cutoff.

To be fair, Swigert wasn't supposed to be on Apollo 13; he was on the backup crew. But original crewmember Ken Mattingly (opens in new tab) was exposed to the German measles close to launch, and so NASA decided to swap the two to ensure that the crew wouldn't be infected. (Mattingly never ended up getting sick and flew on Apollo 16.) 

Apollo 13 timeline: The hectic days of NASA's 'successful failure' to the moon (opens in new tab)

Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert eats breakfast before launching on the mission, not yet realizing he's forgotten to file his taxes.  (Image credit: NASA)

And because Swigert had to scramble to prepare after the swap, he (evidently) didn't file his taxes before leaving. 

Approximately 24 hours and 18 minutes into the mission (and you can read the official and hilarious NASA transcript here (opens in new tab)), which was well before the disastrous oxygen tank explosion, Swigert asked Mission Control:

"Uh oh; have you guys completed your income tax?"

Commander Jim Lovell (opens in new tab), laughing, followed that up with: "How do I apply for an extension?" 

Mission Control burst into laughter. Swigert replied: "It ain't too funny; things kind of happened real fast down there, and I do need an extension." And, again, he was met with raucous laughter. 

Swigert tried again to explain his position: "I didn't get mine filed. And this is serious; would you." But Mission Control was still reeling, "you're breaking up the room down here."

The teasing went on a bit longer (and started to get more creative). The crew was, at this point, still planning on landing on the moon so, in jokingly suggesting that Swigert's misstep could interfere with the mission, someone chimed in to ask, "Is it true that Jack's income tax return was going to be used to buy the ascent fuel for the [lunar module]?" 

Despite the ribbing, Mission Control assured Swigert that they would help him get his taxes filed on time. While Swigert was not in a different country, he was still considered a U.S. citizen abroad, which qualified him for an extension to file his taxes late but penalty-free. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

(opens in new tab)

OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'! (opens in new tab)

For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines (opens in new tab) for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.