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This website lets you relive Apollo 13 in real time through historical transcripts, footage, and audio

Remember a time when humans overcame really bad odds

Fred Haise, James Lovell, and John Swigert after splashing down from Apollo 13
Image: NASA

The 50th anniversary of NASA’s infamous Apollo 13 mission is almost here, and a new website just went live today that will let you relive the heart-wrenching journey as if it were happening live. The website, called Apollo 13 in Real Time, provides transcripts, video footage, and audio recordings surrounding the historical flight, posting the material at the exact times they were created half a century ago.

The website is the creation of Ben Feist, a contractor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston who did a similar project for the Apollo 11 anniversary last summer. It took a team of people eight months to gather all of the historical material for the mission, he says. All in all, the website contains about 90 percent of the documents and footage that exist surrounding Apollo 13. Every word that was spoken by the astronauts on the mission is reproduced in a transcript form, and there are 7,200 hours of audio from NASA’s mission control, much of which was digitized for the first time for the website.

Photographs and video also show up as they were created during the mission. “You see them appear as they’re taken, almost like if you’re replaying your vacation,” Feist tells The Verge.

NASA’s Apollo 13 mission will be forever known as the trip that ultimately didn’t make it to the surface of the Moon. Meant to be the third lunar landing attempt for the US, the three astronauts on board the mission had to abandon that goal after an explosion occurred in one of their spacecraft’s oxygen tanks a little over two days into the launch. The accident caused the astronauts to lose electricity and oxygen in their primary spacecraft, forcing them to take shelter in the lunar lander they were supposed to use to ride down to the Moon. Thanks to tireless troubleshooting from NASA personnel on the ground, the Apollo 13 crew circled the Moon instead and made it safely home after landing in the ocean.

The actual anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13 isn’t until April 11th, but Feist says he wanted to put the website up now so that people could get a feel for it as the date approaches. Users have different options for how to use the site; they can start the journey from just before liftoff, or they can wait until the day of the launch, reliving all of the news commentary as it happened. “It is kind of special during the anniversary, because you can tune in and get this feeling of what was happening exactly right now, 50 years ago,” says Feist.

For those too impatient to wait for the fateful day of the accident, people can scroll right up until the problem occurred, hearing how commander Jim Lovell first notices something is wrong. An accompanying graph shows the pressure in the doomed oxygen tank drop off, as mission control scrambles to understand what’s going on.

Feist says putting everything together was a rewarding experience, giving him the ability to act like a fly on the wall during the entire episode. And he hopes it gives people a better understanding of all of the work that went into saving the mission, especially at a time when technology was way less advanced than it is today. “Being able to hear it now is really kind of cool, because you can start to understand how these flawed humans — like everybody else — were perfect in that moment, as they were working together to try to save the crew,” Feist says.