Apollo XIII is a movie made in 1995 that re-enacted a 1970 mission to the Moon of the same title. Director Ron Howard based his movie on the book “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13”, authored by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger. Lovell, prior to the Apollo 13 mission, had served as the command module pilot of the first mission to enter lunar orbit, the Apollo 8. Howard also used a lot of NASA technical assistance, even shooting scenes inside a reduced gravity ship for authenticity and realism.
Having watched Neil Armstrong’s lunar landing a year earlier, the crew tasked with this mission (with Lovell as commander, joined by astronauts Fred Haise and Jack Swigert) was excited to be selected earlier than expected. A late change in the crew caused a minor upset when Swigert replaced a crew member (Pilot Ken Mattingly) who had succumbed to measles just a few days prior to the flight, but it was otherwise routine.
The mission was not even deemed newsworthy; with the American public having accepted that lunar travel was now no longer a prominent event. That all changed when the message “Houston, we have a problem” was relayed to the mission command centre in Texas. The actual message was “Houston, we’ve had a problem” (Lovell & Kluger, 1994).
Three days into the mission, their craft suffered damage as one of a pair of oxygen tanks exploded. The tank had been fitted despite anomalies, and was unable to handle the heat. Lovell and Haise outfitted the lunar module to act as a lifecraft, while back on earth, Mattingly joins the team at Houston to help the astronauts back to earth.
Describing the mission as a “successful failure”, Lovell says that it will mostly be remembered for the successful rescue of a crew 200,000 miles in space, aboard what amounted to a “bomb waiting to explode”. However, there are those who view it as a “failed success”, because the accident and loss of the Challenger Mission a few years later was indicative of lessons not learned (Torrance, 2006)