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NASA marking the 50th anniversary of ‘successful failure’ Apollo 13 mission

“Houston, we’ve had a problem”

Fred W. Haise;John L. Swigert;James A. Jr. Lovell
The Apollo 13 astronauts
Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Today is the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 13 mission that never made it to the moon, the one where Commander Jim Lovell uttered the phrase “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” NASA calls the mission a “successful failure,” because even though an explosion crippled the primary spacecraft two days in, Lovell and fellow crewmembers Fred Haise and Jack Swigert returned safely to Earth thanks to the determined work of the ground crew at Mission Control.

NASA isn’t planning in-person activities to commemorate the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has released a documentary with archival footage from the mission. Apollo 13: Home Safe includes interviews with Lovell (it opens with him saying “it was plagued by bad omens and bad luck from the very beginning...”) and conversations with Haise, NASA flight directors Gene Kranz and Glynn Lunney and engineer Hank Rotter. Swigert died in 1982. NASA has other social media activities planned as well.

A website called Apollo 13 in Real Time, the creation of Ben Feist, a contractor at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, is providing transcripts, video footage, and audio recordings from the mission posted at the times they occurred 50 years ago, including every word spoken by the astronauts on the mission. Much of the audio was digitized for the first time for this project.

And if you want to watch Ron Howard’s dramatic retelling of the mission (and you definitely should, it’s great for kids), his 1995 film Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks as Lovell, is available on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Google Play and iTunes.