Houston, We Have An Anniversary

UPDATED: 7 At-Home Activities To Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 13

Space Center Houston may be closed, but there's still plenty of ways to celebrate NASA's "successful failure."

By Emma Schkloven April 13, 2020

(17 April 1970) --- The crew members of the Apollo 13 mission step aboard the USS Iwo Jima, the prime recovery ship for the mission, following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean. 

Image: NASA

Start watching Ron Howard’s cinematic masterpiece Apollo 13 at 9:17 p.m. this evening and history will lineup with itself. At the moment Tom Hank’s Jim Lovell says the iconic words “Houston, we have a problem,” it will be exactly 50 years to the minute since Johnson Space Center received a similar message.

As most Houstonians know, the famous quote isn’t really a quote at all. Astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 actually said, “Houston, we've had a problem,” but artistic license was taken for the Academy Award-winning film, which is often the case when real life is repurposed for the big screen.

That doesn’t make the action of the film or the real events that inspired it any less dramatic. On April 13, 1970, the Apollo 13 was on its way to becoming the third-ever shuttle to land on the moon when an oxygen tank exploded 56 hours into the journey, forcing the crew to abandon their mission and attempt to return to Earth safely. 

The insignia of the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission.

Image: NASA

Against all odds, the astronauts made it home and made history.

There were events originally planned to celebrate this “successful failure,” but like many things these days, those plans have been postponed amid the COVID-19 outbreak. So, we (and every other space fanatic) are finding other ways to remember. While you can’t watch Apollo 13 on Netflix anymore, it’s still available to stream for free on Starz (with a subscription, of course) and is also rentable on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play, among other platforms.

Here are six more ways to commemorate this crucial moment in American space history.

Apollo 13 Virtual Exhibit

As the home of Mission Control, JSC was actively involved in bringing the Apollo 13 crew safely down from orbit. The entire rescue is chronicled in Space Center Houston’s new virtual exhibit. Space Center Houston is also hosting a live virtual panel at 7 p.m. Apr 17. During the event, Mission Control staffers will share their memories of working from the ground to assist the astronauts.

Apollo 13: Home Safe

Last week, NASA premiered this new documentary looking back of the Apollo 13 mission, its legacy, and the lessons learned. The special 30-minute program includes interviews with Lovell, fellow flight crew member Fred Haise, and Mission Control flight directors Gene Kranz and Glynn Lunney. It also features plenty of archival footage and audio.

You can also check out the older Apollo 13: Houston. We’ve Got a Problem via the National Archive, which emphasizes the teamwork that led to the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew.

Apollo 13 in Real Time

Thanks to the power of modern technology, you can relive the Apollo 13 mission in real-time. Through this unprecedented multimedia project, visitors can replay footage from both the astronauts and Mission Control at the exact moment it was shot five decades ago, view photos to the minute of when they were taken, and listen to more than 17,000 hours of audio, much of which has been digitized for the first time. Among that audio are the tapes from around the explosion aboard the service module. Apollo 13 in Real Time is sure to get your heart racing—even if you do know how it all ends. 

(17 April 1970) — Crewmen aboard the USS Iwo Jima, the prime recovery ship for the Apollo 13 mission, hoist the Command Module (CM) aboard ship.

Image: NASA

Houston, We Have Got A Podcast

We’ve talked about JSC’s official podcast before (because it’s awesome), but this episode is a bit different. Instead of focusing on general topics related to spaceflight, it features interviews with Lovell and Haise as they “reflect on the highlights of their expansive careers and share wisdom gained from their famous mission on its 50th anniversary.”

Moon Shots

More of a visual person? NASA’s used data from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to recreate images of the moon that the Apollo 13 would have seen as they flew around the far side of the moon. With 4K resolution, the picture is so clear, you’ll feel like you could reach out and touch that cratered surface. There’s also dramatic music, in case you needed that too.

Social Media

If social is more your thing, there’s still plenty of ways to stay in the loop. NASA Headquarters Photo Team is sharing archival photos, there’s an AMA on Reddit and an “Apollo 13 by the Numbers” graphic on NASA’s Tumblr page (Yes, Houston, they have Tumblr). Couple all this with NASA History on Facebook, its Instagram,  and there’s plenty to keep you scrolling.

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