Shoot for the Moon

We Tried (and Failed) to Conquer Houston's New Apollo 13-Themed Escape Room

If Escape Hunt Houston's new room seems like rocket science, that's because it is.

By Cara Maines and Allyson Waller July 19, 2017

Escape hunt houston command module 4 qilpep

The three astronauts inside the spaceship face an unexpected disaster when they lose oxygen.

AFTER MONTHS OF CONSTRUCTION, Houston’s biggest escape room introduced a new game: “Houston, We’ve Had a Problem.” Modeled after the near disaster of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, the hour-long experience involves a series of puzzles and challenges inside a mission control room and a spaceship module. 

Houstonia recently dispatched 7 interns—our brightest young minds—to try out the simulation and bring our boys home. Three “astronauts” suited up in neon orange space spaces to navigate the spaceship while four operators directed the spacemen. In our efforts to complete the series of challenges—from launching the spaceship to navigating an oxygen level problem—we crawled through tunnels and tried our hand at mathematical equations. Rocket science, it turns out, is tough business, and we didn't save our astronauts. But we did learn a few things along the way.

1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

We were split into two groups: astronauts and mission control. After the staff left, the unfamiliar territory had us scrambling to decide what tools to use at crucial moments. As soon as you enter the mission control room, you’re overwhelmed by panels of buttons and monitors. A doorway leads to an even more stimulant-crazy command module, with tons of switches, flashing green lights and tricky toggles. Once the astronauts were seated in their command module, they found a booklet of key statistics that mission control needed to make calculations, but our lack of communication caused the information to be relayed after some valuable time had passed. Our suggestion: Every piece of information is useful, especially if it comes in a booklet. 

2. Talk it out

Beware that most tasks take about two people to handle. For example, when it comes to removing harmful gases inside the lunar module or relaying information to astronauts from mission control, two minds work better than one. It may be necessary to think of the room as a big group project you have to tackle; you don’t want to be the one who takes a back seat when it’s time to do the work and then takes credit when the group succeeds.

3. Bring your TI-84, or at least your brain

If Algebra II gave you night terrors, “Houston We’ve Had a Problem” may be a little advanced. From trying to figure out the proper weight of the astronauts to solving for the correct codes for the lunar module, there were some numbers to crunch. With a room full of people who were not majoring in anything related to physics or science, the experience was partially amusing but mostly disastrous.

Escape hunt houston mission control 7 i4abxp

Inside the control room, participants crack codes and solve puzzles while communicating instructions to the astronauts.

4. Tick-tock, tick-tick, tick-tock...

An hour may seem like ample amount of time, but trust us—when you have the lives of three astronauts in your hands, time feels like it’s moving a lot faster. A countdown is displayed on a small monitor in the room to help you keep track of time, making it imperative to spend around 12 minutes on each task so you can have enough time to escape. It took us around 20 minutes just to figure out how to launch the astronauts into space, which required us to figure out the right code for opening the command module and input the astronauts’ correct weight on the moon—and the game got even more challenging as time went on. Fortunately, there’s a backup room that was just a button push away if we needed a hint on how to tackle a problem, which helped move some of the process along.

5. Lives will be lost, but life goes on

As you probably guessed, we didn't save our astronauts—even after being granted an extra 15 minutes in the escape room. The thing is, we didn’t really expect to. There were only seven of us (Escape Hunt recommends 12), and we had never experienced an escape room before. But we went in hoping to try something new and have fun, and that’s exactly what happened. The ticking clock gave us a sense of urgency, forcing us to work together, while the cramped quarters of the spaceship helped us bond. We got to pretend to be astronauts and race against time—and that ended up being more fun than winning.

Escape Hunt Houston. Tickets $38. 125 W. Gray St. 346-240-9111. More info at

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