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FILM REVIEW; 'Apollo 13,' a Movie for the Fourth of July

By Janet Maslin

  • June 30, 1995

FILM REVIEW; 'Apollo 13,' a Movie for the Fourth of July

THE line of dialogue that will be best remembered from Ron Howard's absolutely thrilling new "Apollo 13" is a slight variation on the truth. "Houston, we have a problem," says one of this film's three endangered astronauts, although "Houston, we've had a problem" is what Jim Lovell actually said. It's a small but important change, one more way that "Apollo 13" unfolds with perfect immediacy, drawing viewers into the nail-biting suspense of a spellbinding true story. You can know every glitch that made this such a dangerous mission, and "Apollo 13" will still have you by the throat.

Better even than Mr. Howard's sure hand with this fascinating material is his film's unexpected restraint. "Apollo 13" understands the difference between movie bravado and real courage, and it celebrates the latter in inspiring ways that have almost gone out of style. With Tom Hanks, wonderful again, as the Everyman in the driver's seat, "Apollo 13" isn't afraid of the stone-cold fear at the heart of this tale or of the intricate group effort needed to see it through. This film and its brave, believable characters are uplifting in ways that have nothing to do with a voyage to outer space.

We take it for granted today that there have been a hundred manned American space flights, and that an astronaut can remain in orbit almost unnoticed for a three-month stretch. But the weeklong adventure of the Apollo 13 crew unfolded in a very different atmosphere. In April 1970, the space program still aroused strong emotions: attention had begun to wane after the previous year's moon walk, but the nation found itself desperately receptive to the astronauts' unforeseen display of heroism after their flight became so perilous. "Apollo 13" doesn't mention Vietnam, but it doesn't have to. The war-weary climate of that time enhances this film's wishful, stirring faith in American know-how.

Like "Quiz Show," "Apollo 13" beautifully evokes recent history in ways that resonate strongly today. Cleverly nostalgic in its visual style (Rita Ryack's costumes are especially right), it harks back to movie making without phony heroics and to the strong spirit of community that enveloped the astronauts and their families. Amazingly, this film manages to seem refreshingly honest while still conforming to the three-act dramatic format of a standard Hollywood hit. It is far and away the best thing Mr. Howard has done (and "Far and Away" was one of the other kind). Equally sound was casting his own mother (Jean Speegle Howard) as Jim Lovell's mother, a real corker. "Are you boys in the space program, too?" she sweetly asks the film's Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

"Apollo 13" makes it unsurprising that Jim Lovell ("no stranger to emergencies he," a television commentator says) would come from sturdy stock. Mr. Lovell is presented as a quietly gung-ho commander, the kind of man who tells his wife (played brightly and affectingly by Kathleen Quinlan) that he's going to the moon as if that's great news. For Mr. Lovell, on whose memoir, "Lost Moon" (written with Jeffrey Kluger), the film is based, it actually was: he had come tantalizingly close to the moon on the Apollo 8 flight and enthusiastically looked forward to a lunar landing. Instead, on a mission whose original flight plan was abruptly aborted, he was lucky to come home alive.

The science behind "Apollo 13" is detailed and specific, and the film conveys it with superb simplicity. Easy as it would have been to sling showy high-tech jargon, the screenplay (credited to William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert) is gratifyingly terse and clear. With a pitch-perfect ear for NASA syntax ("Come on, rookie, park that thing"), the film stays informative while dealing with arcane facts that became matters of life and death. You may see no more dazzling display of ingenuity all year than the authentic way the film's NASA technicians scramble with cardboard and duct tape to make a square peg fit a round hole.

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  • July 4, 2024

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“Apollo 13” (1995): A Gripping Odyssey of Survival and Innovation – Film Review

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apollo 13 movie summary essay

Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13,” released in 1995, stands as a testament to human resilience, ingenuity, and the unyielding spirit of exploration. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise, respectively, the film recounts the harrowing journey of the Apollo 13 mission—a lunar voyage that veered on the brink of disaster. Through meticulous attention to detail, stellar performances, and groundbreaking production techniques, “Apollo 13” not only dramatizes a pivotal moment in space history but also pays homage to the behind-the-scenes heroes at NASA.

Creating Zero Gravity: A Technical Marvel

One of the film’s most remarkable achievements is its authentic portrayal of zero gravity. Unlike many space-themed films that rely heavily on wires and digital effects, “Apollo 13” achieved this realism through filming aboard a KC-135 airplane, affectionately known as the “Vomit Comet.” This aircraft, operated by NASA, was designed to create brief periods of weightlessness, approximately 23 seconds at a time, by flying in parabolic arcs.

Director Ron Howard and his team embarked on an ambitious plan to shoot key scenes of the film aboard the KC-135, making “Apollo 13” one of the first films to use actual weightless conditions to depict space travel. This approach required the cast and crew to adapt to the physically demanding conditions, undergoing multiple flights to capture the essence of life aboard the ill-fated spacecraft. The result is a series of sequences that offer audiences an unparalleled sense of authenticity and immersion.

Behind the Scenes: A Dedication to Authenticity

The commitment to realism didn’t stop at zero gravity. “Apollo 13” benefited from extensive collaboration with NASA, ensuring that every detail, from the spacecraft’s design to the technical jargon used by the astronauts and mission control, was as accurate as possible. The production team worked closely with Jim Lovell and other Apollo 13 personnel to capture the mission’s events and emotions accurately.

Moreover, the film utilized practical effects and models to recreate the spacecraft and its components. The attention to detail in the set design, costumes, and props contributed to the film’s immersive quality, transporting viewers directly into the heart of the mission.

Performance and Character: The Human Heart of “Apollo 13”

At its core, “Apollo 13” is a human story, and its success is anchored by the compelling performances of its cast. Tom Hanks delivers a commanding portrayal of Jim Lovell, embodying the astronaut’s leadership and determination. Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton complement Hanks superbly, capturing the camaraderie, tension, and sheer will to survive that defined the experiences of the Apollo 13 crew.

Equally important is the portrayal of the ground crew, with Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz and Gary Sinise as Ken Mattingly. Their performances underscore the collective effort required to avert tragedy, highlighting the unsung heroes of mission control.

Impact and Legacy

“Apollo 13” not only garnered critical acclaim and commercial success but also played a pivotal role in rekindling public interest in space exploration. The film’s technical achievements, coupled with its emotionally resonant narrative, have left an enduring impact on the portrayal of space missions in cinema.

By marrying groundbreaking production techniques with a deeply human story, “Apollo 13” transcends the typical boundaries of the historical drama genre. It stands as a tribute to the courage of the Apollo 13 crew and the ingenuity of those who worked tirelessly to bring them home, reminding us of the incredible feats humanity is capable of when united by a common goal.

Through “Apollo 13,” audiences are not merely spectators but participants in a journey that showcases the best of human ingenuity, courage, and the relentless pursuit of exploration. It’s a film that continues to inspire awe and admiration, capturing the imagination of viewers and serving as a poignant reminder of space exploration’s inherent risks and rewards.

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Review: Apollo 13 (1995)

Apollo 13 (1995).

Directed by: Ron Howard

Premise: The true story of NASA astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and their mission to the moon, which became a struggle for survival when a malfunction caused their spacecraft to leak oxygen.

What Works: Apollo 13 is a terrific example of dramatizing familiar history and making it into a gripping story. This is done, ironically, by not playing the event as a major earth-shattering affair from the outset, but by focusing on story and character, and building the drama effectively as would be done in a fictional story. As a historical piece, the film puts the events in context without dwelling on it too much, incorporating music and pop culture references to give the film an appropriate backdrop and demonstrate how the Apollo 13 mission fit into the history of the space program and more broadly into American history. As a film about space, Apollo 13 is refreshing in its serious treatment of space exploration. Aside from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff , this is one of the only feature films to deal seriously with the possibilities of space exploration and stay within the boundaries of facts and science rather than fall into the silly science fiction of films like Space Camp or Armageddon . Apollo 13 is an extremely well edited piece of film, balancing between the drama on board the spacecraft, the tension in NASA control, and the anxiety of the astronaut’s families. Between these three story fronts, there are some very good performances in the film. The three principle actors work very well together but there are also some commanding performances in the supporting roles such as Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz, Gary Sinise as astronaut Ken Mattingly, and Kathleen Quinlan as spouse Marilyn Lovell.

What Doesn’t: Things don’t really get going in the film until the space accident, which is well into the running time of the picture. While the scenes that precede that moment pay off, some viewers may get antsy waiting for the story to get going.

DVD extras: Commentary tracks, documentary, featurettes, and NASA footage.

Bottom Line: Apollo 13 is a terrific film and probably the best picture Ron Howard has made. It is also worth noting that the film inspired the excellent HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon , which dramatizes the Apollo missions.

Episode: #248 (July 26, 2009)

Apollo 13 (United States, 1995)

For those too young to recall the tragic events of November 22, 1963, one of the most stark and enduring images of a lifetime came on a frigid afternoon in January 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up while skyrocketing heavenward. By that time, shuttle flights had become routine, and few gave much thought to the possibility of something going wrong. After the accident, NASA was forced to re-evaluate its plans while everyone who had watched considered their own mortality. Not since April of 1970 and Apollo 13 had the United States' space program encountered this kind of disaster -- except in that case, no lives were lost.

The Apollo program was first announced in 1961. The climax came on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11's lunar module and issued his famous quote. Nine months later, with astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) aboard, Apollo 13 left the launch pad. Since moonshots were now regarded as commonplace, none of the three networks chose to air Lovell's first broadcast to Earth, preferring instead the likes of I Dream of Jeannie (which, ironically, featured a strong fictional image of NASA). However, when an explosion left the crew with a dwindling oxygen supply and failing power, television took notice, as did the entire world. This is the story told by Ron Howard ( Parenthood, Far and Away ) in Apollo 13 , his best movie to date.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of this film is sustaining white-knuckle tension even though the chain of events is well-known. The conclusion of the mission is a matter of recent historical record, yet recalling how it ends does nothing to lessen the excitement or dampen the emotional impact of several key moments. Such deft film making is a prime reason why Apollo 13 is an unqualified success.

It's not the only reason, however. During the 140-minute running time, we are essentially given three stories: the astronauts' struggle to stay alive, the controlled chaos at NASA as experts are forced to come up with unexpected solutions, and the trauma faced by the families of the men whose lives are in danger. With inserts of news footage from the time (much of which features Walter Cronkite), Apollo 13 attains a level of verisimilitude few current features can match.

Scientifically, Apollo 13 is accurate, even though at times things seem more like science fiction. Additionally, with a script that relies on Lovell's account, this movie takes fewer liberties with the facts than many other productions based on true events. Apollo 13 has tremendous appeal because the story is only 25 years removed from the nightly news, and many of the details still linger.

The effective, understated special effects never upstage any of the fine performances. All three actors playing the astronauts -- Hanks, Paxton, and Bacon -- have gotten under their characters' skins. Ed Harris exudes a palpable intensity in a supporting performance as Mission Controller Gene Kranz, the coordinator of the teamwork that goes into saving the space craft. Gary Sinese, reunited here with Forrest Gump co-star Tom Hanks, plays Ken Mattingly, the member of Lovell's team who, after being refused medical clearance to fly, plays a crucial role in the rescue.

Howard has a firm grasp on what he's attempting. The little details are all right. Among its many successes, Apollo 13 offers the simple wonder of taking the audience to a strange place. Many movies these days are content to tell a story mechanically, without actually transporting the viewer somewhere else. Not so here. We are with Lovell, Haise, and Swigert through every harrowing mile of their journey, and when Lovell dreams of setting foot on the moon, we understand his loss.

The villain here is the vastness of space -- an antagonist that refuses direct confrontation. There isn't a traditional bad guy to be found, but Apollo 13 needs no such useless embellishment. The basic human drama of the situation raises the heartbeat far more than all the explosions of Die Hard with a Vengeance or the contrived submarine warfare of Crimson Tide . Reality has a taste the likes of which fiction can rarely match. Those who recall that week in April 1970 will enjoy seeing the full story unfold; those who are too young to remember will get a feeling not only of what the individuals endured, but how the country as a whole reacted. While the events of this motion picture may depict NASA's finest hour, the release of Apollo 13 represents Ron Howard's.

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Geeks Under Grace

This past Saturday, July 20th, the world celebrated a half-century since the first time man landed on the moon. It was an incredible day of commemorating one of humanity’s greatest technological accomplishments. In honor of that feat, please enjoy this belated review of Ron Howard’s classic historical thriller Apollo 13 . 

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Sequences of suspense and near-death experiences, no gore.

Language/Crude Humor: Some language throughout including s*** and g**d***.

Sexual Content: Nothing depicted, some innuendo and an offscreen sex scene.

Other Negative Content: None.

Positive Content: Themes of problem solving and survival.

apollo 13 movie summary essay

Apollo 13 movie image Tom Hanks

Last week I was blindsided when I found out that the previous Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon by Apollo 11. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that given that there was a time in my life that I would’ve likely had that date written on my calendar months in advance. I was raised in the romance of the space race by my father who taught me all about the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union between 1957 and 1969 to put the first man on the moon. I probably should’ve gotten the hint that in the past year we got two well-made movies about the moon landing with Damien Chazelle’s First Man and CNN’s documentary Apollo 11 . 

My daftness aside, I’ve spent the past few days revisiting some of my favorite space race movies in honor of mankind’s greatest technological accomplishment. Among them is Ron Howard’s 1995 historical thriller Apollo 13 . Maybe there were more appropriate picks to revisit on such an anniversary than the film about America’s only failed mission to the moon but I had two reasons to justify this error. The first was that Apollo 13 is one of my all-time favorite films. The second is that there’s a certain irony to watching a movie about the irrelevancy of the space program after having forgotten the anniversary. 

apollo 13 movie summary essay

Irrelevancy is a huge theme in the film after the movie’s opening. Apollo 13 was planned to be the third moon mission in April of 1970 less than a year after Apollo 11 yet the public had already gotten so bored with manned space flight that no major network planned to broadcast NASA’s live TV broadcasts with the crew. At the film’s beginning, major politicians are already starting to push to end the Apollo program with their third flight. Perversely, the thing that get’s the eyes of the public back on Apollo 13 is the morbid drama that played out.

At first, things seem quite normal (although as flight commander Jim Lovell says, there is nothing normal about landing on the moon) when halfway on their journey a massive explosion rocks the spacecraft and starts spewing oxygen into the vacuum of space. The explosion has the secondary effect of slowly draining the ship’s electricity in addition to the ship’s oxygen supply which leaves the crew with the task to shut down the dying spacecraft days from the earth before life support goes out. From here on out the story follows the desperate attempt of the three astronauts and the men on the ground at Mission Control as they have to work their way through engineering problems and find a way to get the crew back to Earth safely.   

The film is based on the book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 which was co-written by the ship’s commander Jim Lovell. Naturally, the movie version of Lovell is played by the ever immortal Tom Hanks. Part of what makes the story work so excellently is its dedication to playing out the events as they happened. There is some hyperbole such as the scenes involving drama between the astronauts which didn’t happen but other than that the movie is played out remarkably similar to how the events of the actual Apollo 13 disaster occured. The movie relies entirely on real human drama as it transpired in real life.  

Apollo 13 is also one of the most spectacular special effects films ever made. Much like the then-recent Jurassic Park , the movie’s blend of CGI and practical effects is deeply engrossing in a way most modern films overreliant on CGI aren’t. Part of this is thanks to how the film executed much of the effects. CGI is only used for shots of the spacecraft’s exterior and they’re all very well composed. For the film’s anti-gravity scenes, the production had to shoot all of the segments aboard Apollo 13 in anti-gravity simulators which involve flying a KC-135 aircraft at an extremely low angle at high speed to simulate weightlessness for several second intervals. This is the same method that NASA uses to train its astronauts for zero gravity. The method only creates weightlessness for approximately 23 seconds which means that all of the takes had to be recorded quickly. In the final cut, the effect is indistinguishable from seeing the actual actors floating in space. 

There’s probably a light critique that could be made about the script overall. It’s not a story crafted around traditional character arcs which makes the film feel strange at times. Ron Howard is a workman by most standards as his highly eclectic filmography has shown. When he has a good script he makes great movies but when he has a bad script he’s unable to elevate the material. Certainly,  Apollo 13 does feel the sting at times of being produced via functionality rather than auteur intent. That said, it’s a story fundamentally about how highly trained and intelligent people act when their backs are against the wall. It’s not a traditional morality play as much as it is a series of puzzles and practical problems that have to be worked out.

In that, it’s immensely suspenseful. The movie does a good job expressing at every point just how high the dramatic stakes are if the characters fail at any step of the process. One wrong move means flying off into deep space forever, suffocating to death or burning up in reentry. For what it is, Apollo 13 is a uniquely memorable and effective film and one of the best stories ever told about the space race. 

apollo 13 movie summary essay

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Apollo 13 Movie Review: Science and Ingenious Problem-Solving in Space

How it works

  • 1 Launch Dynamics and Newton’s Laws
  • 2 Critical Power and Life-Threatening Challenges
  • 3.1 Work Cited

Launch Dynamics and Newton’s Laws

When the launch of Apollo 13 happened, the rocket reached a speed of 25,000 mph, causing the astronauts to reach a force four times greater than Earth’s normal gravity. When the spacecraft went through each stage, it released a used rocket that was followed by a second rocket, it slowed down, and the crew members were flung forward against their seatbelts from inertia. Inertia is the resistance of an object to any change in its motion or direction, which is part of Newton’s first law, an object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force.

An example of this in Apollo 13 is when the rocket takes off, and the astronauts are jolted back into their seats. Same with a car when you slam on the brakes, and the seat belt restrains you from flying forward. The launch scene also demonstrates Newton’s second law, which is the acceleration of an object directly proportional to the net force on it and inversely proportional to its mass (F= ma). The launch demonstrates this because in order for the shuttle to lift off the ground, the force has to be large, and as the thrust increases, so does the acceleration and force.

Critical Power and Life-Threatening Challenges

In the movie, we see that the ship has a malfunction with a chance of the spacecraft never reaching home, putting the astronauts’ lives at serious risk. In a scene where they are coming around the moon, and they get back in touch with Houston. The crewmen in the control room, during a meeting, discuss how the spacecraft only has forty-five hours of power left, which isn’t enough power for them to reach home. A crew member explains that power is everything, and without it, they can’t communicate with us, they don’t correct their trajectory, they don’t turn the heat shield around, and suggests they need to turn the power off completely right now or else they will make it to reentry. The crewman explains that with everything, the LEM draws 60 amps which is the Lunar Excursion Module satellite and goes on saying at that rate, the batteries are dead in 16 hours. He suggests that they should bring the amps down to 12 amps. That would disconnect the radars, cabin heater, instrument displays, guidance computer, and everything.

Carbon Dioxide Crisis: A Test of Ingenuity

In another scene in the control room, they start to worry about the astronaut’s health once Haise starts having a temperature, and none of them have slept at all. They have an issue arising with the carbon dioxide, and there’s a CO2 filter problem on the lunar module. There are five filters on the LEM that were meant for two guys for a day and a half, and they are at eight on the gauges. Anything after fifteen, the astronauts start to have impaired judgments, blackouts, and the beginning of brain asphyxia, which is a condition where the brain isn’t receiving oxygen.

In another scene towards the middle end, the astronauts are starting to be saturated with carbon dioxide since the levels keep rising quickly. It is very poisonous to breathe in carbon dioxide. So one way they demonstrate science in this scene is when back at the control room, a team gathers items that are on the spacecraft to figure out a solution to filtering out the carbon dioxide. They use the tools that are aboard the spacecraft and the crew members to assemble a filtration device and then test the device and determine if it works. They relay the instructions on assembling the device back to the astronauts, so they can assemble it.

  • Lovell, J., Kluger, J., & Kluger, J. (1995). Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Mattingly, T. K., & French, C. (2006). Apollo 13: We Have a Problem: The True Story of the Apollo 13 Disaster. New American Library.
  • Bilstein, R. E. (1996). Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles. University Press of Florida.


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apollo 13 movie summary essay

  • Cast & crew
  • User reviews

Apollo 13

  • NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy.
  • This Hollywood drama is based on the events of the Apollo 13 lunar mission, astronauts Jim Lovell , Fred Haise and Jack Swigert find everything going according to plan after leaving Earth's orbit. However, when an oxygen tank explodes, the scheduled moon landing is called off. Subsequent tensions within the crew and numerous technical problems threaten both the astronauts' survival and their safe return to Earth. — Jwelch5742
  • On board a NASA spacecraft that is on route to the moon, three astronauts experience problematic difficulties that put their lives in danger. They must do everything to get back to Earth safely before they experience more damage that could potentially kill them. — RECB3
  • A movie based on what was to be the third lunar-landing mission. This film shows the trials and tribulations of the Apollo 13 crew, mission control, and families after a near-fatal accident cripples the space vehicle. A mission that couldn't get TV airtime because space flights had become routine to the American public suddenly grabbed the national spotlight. This is a tale of averted tragedy, heroism and shows a testament to the creativity of the scientists who ran the early space missions. — FMJ_Joker
  • It had been less than a year since man first walked on the Moon, but as far as the American public was concerned, Apollo 13 was just another "routine" space flight--until these words pierced the immense void of space: "Houston, we have a problem." Stranded 205,000 miles from Earth in a crippled spacecraft, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert fight a desperate battle to survive. Meanwhile, at Mission Control, astronaut Ken Mattingly, flight director Gene Kranz and a heroic ground crew race against time--and the odds--to bring them home. — Robert Lynch <[email protected]>
  • US Space mission culminates in Apollo 11 mission with Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. It's July 20, 1969. Astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) is having a party at his house to celebrate the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Astronaut Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) is Jim's colleague & a smart mouth. Astronauts Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) are scheduled to fly on Apollo 14 with Lovell. The space program is under budget constraints once the US citizens realize that they have beaten the Russians to the moon. But then the primary Apollo 13 crew is sidelined when Allen Shepard develops an ear infection. Jim & his crew are moved up 6 months & will fly Apollo 13. Three months before the launch, Lovell, Haise and Mattingly spend time in the simulator and practice docking with the lunar excursion module (LEM). The technicians shut down some of the Thrusters without warning to see how Mattingly would handle this during an actual flight. Mattingly is caught off guard for a moment, but he manages to complete the procedure successfully. Marilyn, Jim's wife is suspect of the unlucky # 13, but Jim shrugs her off. He is too determined to walk on the moon. Its his childhood dream. Two days before the launch, Lovell is approached by Deke Slayton and the Flight Surgeon (Christian Clemenson) who tell him that backup crew member Charlie Duke has been diagnosed with measles; this means all the astronauts have been exposed. Lovell says he's had the measles. Slayton says, "Ken Mattingly hasn't.". Flight surgeon predicts that Mattingly will get sick in flight & Jim's choice is to fly without Mattingly (with Swigert) or not at all. Jim decides to take his shot at the moon. When Mattingly finds out he is upset. He is sure he is not going to fall sick. Swigert enters flight simulations and can't get the re-entry right. The crew synchronization is all shot up. April 11th is launch day & Swigert is very nervous. At Mission Control in Houston, lead Flight Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) also gets suited up for the mission. As the leader of the White Team, it's a NASA tradition for him to wear a white vest with the mission insignia. Kranz goes through the Pre-flight checks and launch readiness as the astronauts are strapped into the Command Module Odyssey. Apollo 13 lifts off on time at 1:13 as the crowd applauds. Mid-flight, engine 5 develops a snag and Jim consider the abort button, but then gets the go ahead from Mission Control to continue. Jim thinks that the mission snag. Swigert then performs a complicated maneuver to dock the service module to the lunar module & does do flawlessly. Jim doesn't have a lot of faith in him. After a routine mid-flight broadcast, CapCom gives Swigert some "housekeeping procedures" to do, including stirring the oxygen tanks. Swigert does so. There's an explosion in an oxygen tank. The spacecraft is violently shaken. Several alarms go off. Lovell asks what he did. He says he just stirred the tanks. In Mission Control, EECOM and Guidance are surprised when their computer screens flicker. CapCom exchanges a confused look with Kranz and says, "This is Houston, say again please?" Lovell says, "Houston, we have a problem." The explosion has caused the oxygen tanks to suddenly empty. Tank 2 is gone & Tank 1 supply is falling rapidly. It's a quadruple failure with fuel cells 1 and 3 failing as well. Jim looks out the window and can see oxygen spewing out of the tanks. In Mission Control Kranz is stunned & calls each team to call in their support crews. He knows it will be a tough task to bring the crew home with no oxygen. At this point Kranz receives recommendations to shut down the errant fuel cells to isolate the fuel leakage. Cells shut down cannot be revived & module can't land with one fuel cell. This effectively means no Moon landing on this mission. The leak is in the command module, so Jim orders the Lunar Module to be powered up. CM is down to 15 mins of O2. The CM will be powered down & if the flight guidance data is not transferred to LM before the power down, Apollo 13 will effectively be flying blind & will be lost. Working swiftly, LM is powered up & guidance data transferred in time. LM was not designed to fly with the CM on its back. Kranz holds a staff meeting to discuss options to bring the module home. The CM engine is considered out of action. CM will only be used for re-entry (although no one knows if the shield is intact). The LM engine will thrust the craft slingshot around the moon and head home. The only issue is that O2 runs out at the halfway mark. At this point Mattingly is informed about the disaster on Apollo 13 & he heads to Mission Control to help out. His job is to figure out how to power up the CM with 8 amps of power. Kranz uses the rest of the team to design a air filter with only material that Apollo 13 has in the spacecraft. Meanwhile LM has limited power, so everything is shut down the radars, cabin heater, instrument displays, guidance computer, the whole smash. Swigert thinks the CM is coming in towards Earth too fast & will skip right off. He thinks Mission Control is not telling them this. Jim agrees but says that's a problem for the future. In the face of death, the astronauts have a heated argument, with Haise practically blaming Swigert for all their troubles. Meanwhile the CO2 levels inside the modules keep rising. The engineers at mission control finish the filter & relay the instructions to Jim. The Astronauts build the filter & immediately the Co2 levels start to go down. At least they won't die because of lack of air. Mattingly is still in the simulator trying to figure out the power-up procedure. He uses too much power and has to start over. Haise falls sick in the CM & has 104 fever. The CM is freezing cold. Kranz receives news that the spacecraft trajectory is too shallow & a course correction is required, but CM cannot be powered up yet. So, it's a blind burn. Jim figures out that they can use the Earth as a reference and steer the engines manually. Mattingly describes the sequence he wants to use for re-entry. Aaron says they don't have enough power, and they have to trade off some of the systems. Mattingly says they need all the systems he's mentioned. They argue about it, and Mattingly says he'll find more power. Jim begs Mission Control to get the procedure up to them because they "can't throw things together at the last minute." He says, "We're all a little tired up here. The world's getting awfully big in the window." Mattingly says that since the LEM draws back-up power from the CM, they should reverse the flow to get more power to the CM. There's no procedure for this, but Young and Aaron agree to try. Mattingly and Aaron work out the procedure and rush to flight deck to relay the same to Jim. Swigert looks at the condensation on the instrument panels and worries about them shorting out. He says, "It's like trying to drive a toaster through a car wash." Swigert successfully powers up the CM. He says, "We got her back up, Ken. Boy, I wish you were here to see it." Mattingly says, "I'll bet you do." Haise says, "Way to go, Jack." Swigert smiles. The crew jettisons the Service Module, getting their first look at just how much damage the explosion caused. Lovell exclaims, "One whole side of the spacecraft is missing!" He reports that a panel is blown out right up to the heat-shield. A news anchor on TV says that the heat builds up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on a lunar re-entry flight. "If the heat-shield is even slightly cracked, the extreme cold could have split it wide open. Worst of all, if the pyrotechnics that control the parachutes have been damaged, the chutes may not open at all, causing the spacecraft to hit the water not at a gentle 20 miles per hour, but at a suicidal 300." The team moves from the LM to the CM. They jettison the LEM; Lovell stares after it. Haise swallows hard and says, "She sure was a good ship." Mattingly says, "Farewell, Aquarius, and we thank you." The crew of the aircraft carrier USS Iwo Jima is shown getting ready for the recovery operations. The Mission Control room is extremely crowded with people waiting for the re-entry. RETRO tells Kranz the trajectory is still slightly shallow and asks if they should tell the crew. Kranz asks if there's anything they can do about it. RETRO says not now. Kranz says, "Then they don't need to know, do they?" It's almost time for entry interface. Lovell says, "Gentlemen, it's been a privilege flying with you." The CM flies toward Earth in a fiery cloud. Mattingly keeps trying to talk to the crew. INCO says it's been three and a half minutes, then four. Everyone else is quiet and solemn. Then they see the CM on the screen. The parachutes have deployed successfully. The next second, they hear Lovell say, "Hello, Houston? This is Odyssey. It's good to see you again." There's loud applause in Mission Control. After splashdown, Lovell shakes hands with Haise and Swigert. Before a Navy diver comes to retrieve them from the CM, he says, "Houston, we're at stable one, the ship is secure. This is Apollo 13, signing off." Kranz exclaims, "Good job!" in a choked voice and gives a thumbs-up with both hands. Other people in the room continue to applaud. In the following months, it was determined that a damaged coil built inside the oxygen tank sparked during our Cryo stir and caused the explosion that crippled the Odyssey. It was a minor defect that occurred two years before

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apollo 13 movie summary essay

SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991; Space Exploration;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Teamwork; Male Role Model;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility.

AGE: 8+; MPAA Rating — PG (for language and emotional intensity);

Drama; 1995; 140 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com .

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Benefits of the Movie Possible Problems Parenting Points Selected Awards & Cast

Helpful Background Discussion Questions Social-Emotional Learning Moral-Ethical Emphasis

Assignments, Projects, & Activities Bridges to Reading Links to the Internet Bibliography


TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction ;

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes ; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects .

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project .


This film is a realistic dramatization of NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. Because of mechanical problems, Apollo 13 failed to reach the moon and was almost lost. The movie builds great suspense and is deeply absorbing.


Selected Awards:

1995 Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Sound; 1996 Directors Guild of America Awards: Best Director (Howard); 1995 Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Harris); 1995 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Harris), Best Supporting Actress (Quinlan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Score.

Featured Actors:

Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathline Quinlan, Bret Cullen.

Ron Howard.


“Apollo 13” shows men solving problems with intelligence, skill, teamwork, and bravery. The movie shows the process of preparing for space travel in the 1970s. It raises issues of loyalty to individuals on the team against the need for loyalty to the team as a whole. The role that Ken Mattingly played in saving the mission, even when bad luck prevented him from being on the spacecraft, shows that even if you cannot be on the first team, you can still perform an essential role, save the day, and become a hero. Each of the astronauts, in his own way, is a positive male role model.


MINOR. The party scene at the very beginning of the film contains a short, objectionable exchange between the Swigert character and a young woman. He is trying to pick her up by comparing docking a spacecraft to sexual intercourse. Younger children will not understand this exchange. When older children see the film, distract them by talking about something else during this scene or fast-forward the film beyond it. It would be a shame to disqualify this otherwise wonderful movie for 10 seconds of dialogue.

Mild profanity is used by the astronauts and NASA personnel in extraordinarily tense situations. Alcohol use and smoking are shown.


Before or after the movie, comment on how much you admire everyone involved with Apollo 13. They did their best as team players. Without that teamwork, the astronauts on Apollo 13 would have died. You may also want to share with your child, some of the information included in the Helpful Background section of this Guide.


In 1961 President Kennedy committed the United States to a program to put a man on the moon by 1970. His purpose was to provide a clear goal in the American effort to surpass the Soviet space program. The Apollo program landed six space ships on the moon beginning with Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. Three of the missions, Apollo 14, 16, and 17, were extended stays on the surface of the moon in which the astronauts used a two-man Lunar Roving Vehicle to cross the Moon’s surface.

During the busiest years of the Apollo program, NASA had 36,000 permanent employees, 376,700 contract employees, and a yearly operating budget of $5.2 billion. The U.S. spent 25 billion dollars on the Apollo program. No other country has landed a man on the moon. In 1972, most of its goals having been accomplished, the Apollo program was abandoned so that NASA could concentrate on the space shuttle.

Apollo 13, launched on April 11, 1970, was crewed by James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr. and Fred Wallace Haise, Jr. As the space ship was preparing to begin lunar landing operations, an explosion occurred in the Command and Service Module (CSM). The ship lost oxygen. Electrical power and other systems were damaged. The abort systems intended to permit an emergency return to earth were knocked out.

To preserve power, the crew retreated to the Lunar Module and deactivated the systems in the CSM. The Lunar Module had no heat shield and therefore could not be used for re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. After several harrowing experiences, including almost freezing to death and being nearly asphyxiated by carbon dioxide, enough power was found to use the CSM for reentry.

Later, it was found that the cause of the loss of the spacecraft was an explosion that occurred because of a defective wire connecting a fan used to stir liquid oxygen. The insulation on the wire burned, triggering the explosion. No astronaut was at fault.

An ampere (“amp” for short) is a unit used to measure the flow of electrical current, i.e., the number of electrons passing a certain point each second. The batteries in the CSM had been damaged in the explosion and were generating only a small portion of their usual power. Using a flight simulator, Ken Mattingly and the NASA engineers measured the number of amps that each of the reentry procedures required and found a way to steer the spacecraft through reentry with the limited amount of power left in the CSM’s batteries.

Apollo was a Greek God, the son of Zeus and Leto. Second in power only to Zeus, he gave life and light through the power of the sun. He was the God of masculine beauty, patron of the arts, god of music, poetry and the healing arts. He was the purifier of those stained by crime. The Romans adopted Apollo, worshiping him as the god of healing and of the sun.


Using In Classroom Here.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction .

2. Should the people at NASA have been deterred by the failure of Apollo 13?

Suggested Response:

Daniel S. Goldin, former administrator of NASA, said that one should never be deterred by failure but that if you learned from your failures, they would be the building blocks for later success. Commencement address to the 2001 graduating class of the Engineering School, University of California, Berkeley.

3. Why didn’t the television networks cover the launch of Apollo 13?

4. Would you want to be an astronaut? If so, why? If not, why not? Would the tedium of all the hours of training be worth it?

5. Do you think it’s important to explore space using manned spacecraft?

6. With all of the problems in the world such as poverty and disease, should we have spent billions of dollars trying to send someone to the moon? Shouldn’t we have spent the money here on Earth to give people better lives?

7. Describe the historical background behind NASA’s program to explore the moon and its importance to the United States in the 1960s. What did this have to do with the Cold War?

8. What does this film tell you about what engineers do?


1. For one of the astronauts on the spacecraft and one of the major characters at NASA describe what you admired most about the characters portrayed in this film. Would you consider them to be male role models?

There is no one right response to this question.

2. Which of the men portrayed in this film acted with the most courage?

3. What would have happened had any member of the crew not worked as a loyal member of the team?

They would have all died.

4. Which of the persons portrayed in this film demonstrated the most loyalty to the team?

Ken Mattingly.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)

1. Was Lovell right in agreeing to remove Ken Mattingly from the team?

Reasonable minds could differ on this point, as it is a close call because the chances of Mattingly getting measles was slight. However, the film takes the position that Lovell made the right decision. He could not sacrifice the potential success of the mission and risk wasting all of the effort and money put into the mission, out of loyalty to one member.

(Additional questions on this topic are set out in the “Social-Emotional Learning” section above.)


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

2. What would have happened had anyone at NASA or on board the spacecraft not done their best?


1. Recreate several sets of objects similar to those that were on board the spaceship and available to make the carbon dioxide filters compatible. Divide the class into groups, and ask them to make the square filter fit into the round hole. Make it a contest and see which group can complete the task first and which group can make the best connection. For example, you can test for leaks, increasing the air pressure using a hair dryer or reversed vacuum cleaner.

2. See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction


CCSS Anchors Here.


Science fiction books dealing with space travel that have been recommended for adolescents who are good readers include: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke; 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke (sequel); A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Books on space include: The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System by Ron Miller and Williams Hartmann and Cosmos by Carl Sagan.


  • See NASA’s Apollo 13 Home Page .
  • For more about the moon, see NASA’s Lunar Homepage


In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine , the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.

Last updated July 21, 2013.

Management in the “Apollo 13” Movie by Ron Howard Essay (Movie Review)

  • To find inspiration for your paper and overcome writer’s block
  • As a source of information (ensure proper referencing)
  • As a template for you assignment

The adaptive challenge was the astronauts’ ability to face and solve the unexpected problems that they encountered in space. Kranz, the lead flight director, was the man left at the command center and was, therefore, in charge of the crew the day Apollo 13 was launched into space. The astronauts had to come up with ways of surviving with minimal oxygen, limited space, and working with no heat and power. All these problems were caused by the explosion of the second oxygen tank as the astronauts entered the space 1 . The explosion led to further damage to the first tank, rendering the crew helpless and forcing them to adapt.

Kranz, on his part, faced the huge challenge of making sure that the rocket was able to cruise safely back to earth after the failure of its navigation system and erroneous calculations 2 . He was forced to make time splitting decisions on how the crew in space would be able to navigate back to earth with the help of the sun’s altitude, as well as how they were supposed to power up their rocket after the explosion. Even though he faced many challenges and was under a lot of pressure, both from the media and the terrified astronauts in space, he was able to keep calm so as to ensure they return back home safely.

The conflict of goals was that NASA and its employees were so focused on meeting the schedule for the flight to space that they did not take time to evaluate the core areas of functionality. This conflict was clearly seen when Kranz took responsibility and said that the failure of the trip was due to all the team members.

Thus, if they had unity of goals, then the team from engineering, design, and simulation would have worked hand in hand, and they would have been able to foresee all the problems that Apollo 13 faced since most of them were due to the carelessness 3 . This reaction brings out an important trait of Kranz as a leader when he took responsibility for failure but came up with measures to ensure the astronauts were able to navigate safely back to earth.

The first DLM capability refers to sensemaking in solving a problem faced by a leader. Kranz used this capability driven by plausibility since he was not in space, and he could only try to infer what the astronauts were facing up there after the catastrophic failure and explosion. Thus, one of the most relevant tools he used was re-framing. Kranz had already simulated how it would be during the flight and after the astronauts landed in space, as well as their trip back, but now he faced a new challenge since they had encountered misfortunes that were not part of the simulation 4 .

Thus, it was this tool that helped him try and figure the conditions out there and how he could successfully advise the crew to ensure the situation was overcome. More so, one of the guiding variables was the sun’s position in relation to the space ship, which was relevant in determining the right trajectory for the crew to land on earth safely since a slight mistake could make them orbit to death.

The second DLM capability used by Kranz was relating. It was during this phase that he was able to inquire from his team on what their thoughts about the situation at hand were and the type of solutions available for them to be able to save the astronauts in space. Furthermore, he connected with the team members by taking responsibility for all the failures and, in the process, gained their trust 5 . This was important since it enabled him to advocate for the astronauts to share the same cabin in the space ship so as to be able to survive.

Furthermore, he carefully guided them on the right procedures to power the space ship back, as well as head it back to earth. The relevant tool he used was the ability to understand the holding environment, both at the command center and the one being faced by the astronauts in space. It was through such an understanding that he was able to diffuse the tension among the media, command center, astronauts, and the public.

The third capability in DLM is the ability to visualize. This was the capability that was not fully utilized since even though Kranz and his team had a compelling vision of the trip to space, they did not foresee the misfortunes likely to take place. Thus, their vision was limited in terms of threats to the trip. The values, not carefully met and given a priority such as simulation, design, and testing, constrained the vision since they could avert some of the misfortunes that took place, especially the explosion.

The last capability is inventing, and Kranz was able to help his crew to overcome the fear by using Lewin’s model of change that advocates for a three-stage process of unfreezing, transitioning, and stabilization. He came up with creative ways of navigation, such as depending on the sun’s position to navigate, which ensured the crew got back to earth safely 6 .


Hemphill, John. Situational Factors in Leadership . Columbus: Ohio State University Bureau of Educational Research, 2007.

Kluger, Jeffrey and James Lowell. Apollo 13 . Boston: Mariner Books, 2006.

Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option . New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Lena, William. No Room for Fear . New York: McGraw Hill, 2010.

Montana, Patrick. Management . New York: Barron’s Educational Series Inc, 2008.

  • William Lena. No Room for Fear . (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010), 255.
  • Jeffrey Kluger and James Lowell. Apollo 13. (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006). 78
  • Gene Kranz . Failure Is Not an Option . (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009), 67.
  • John Hemphill. Situational Factors in Leadership . (Columbus: Ohio State University Bureau of Educational Research, 2007), 98.
  • Patrick Montana. Management. (New York: Barron’s Educational Series Inc, 2008). 78.
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IvyPanda. (2020, November 25). Management in the "Apollo 13" Movie by Ron Howard. https://ivypanda.com/essays/management-in-the-apollo-13-movie-by-ron-howard/

"Management in the "Apollo 13" Movie by Ron Howard." IvyPanda , 25 Nov. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/management-in-the-apollo-13-movie-by-ron-howard/.

IvyPanda . (2020) 'Management in the "Apollo 13" Movie by Ron Howard'. 25 November.

IvyPanda . 2020. "Management in the "Apollo 13" Movie by Ron Howard." November 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/management-in-the-apollo-13-movie-by-ron-howard/.

1. IvyPanda . "Management in the "Apollo 13" Movie by Ron Howard." November 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/management-in-the-apollo-13-movie-by-ron-howard/.

IvyPanda . "Management in the "Apollo 13" Movie by Ron Howard." November 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/management-in-the-apollo-13-movie-by-ron-howard/.

apollo 13 movie summary essay

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By: History.com Editors

Updated: April 9, 2020 | Original: February 20, 2010

HISTORY: Apollo 13

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the Apollo Space program (1961-1975) and was supposed to be the third lunar landing mission, but the three astronauts aboard never reached the moon. Instead the crew and ground control team scrambled through a hair-raising rescue mission. On April 13, 1970, an oxygen tank on board exploded. Ground control in Houston rushed to develop an emergency plan as millions around the world watched and the lives of three astronauts hung in the balance: commander James A. Lovell Jr., lunar module pilot Fred W. Haise Jr. and command module pilot John L. Swigert.

Apollo 13’s Mission

The Apollo 13 astronauts

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida . On board were astronauts James Lovell, John “Jack” Swigert and Fred Haise. Their mission was to reach the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon and explore the Imbrium Basin, conducting geological experiments along the way.

WATCH: Apollo 13: Modern Marvels on HISTORY Vault 

"Houston, we've had a problem..."

At 9:00 p.m. EST on April 13, Apollo 13 was over 200,000 miles from Earth. The crew had just completed a television broadcast and was inspecting Aquarius, the Landing Module (LM). The next day, Apollo 13 was to enter the moon’s orbit. Lovell and Haise were set to become the fifth and sixth men to walk on the moon .

It was not to be. At 9:08 p.m.—about 56 hours into the flight—an explosion rocked the spacecraft . Oxygen tank No. 2 had blown up, disabling the regular supply of oxygen, electricity, light and water. Lovell reported to mission control: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” The Command Module (CM) was leaking oxygen and rapidly losing fuel cells. The moon landing mission was aborted.

LISTEN ON APPLE PODCASTS: 'Houston, We've Had a Problem'

How the Crew of Apollo 13 Survived

One hour after the explosion, mission control instructed the crew to move to the LM, which had sufficient oxygen, and use it as a lifeboat. The LM was only designed to transport astronauts from the orbiting CM to the moon’s surface and back again; its power supply was meant to support two people for 45 hours. If the crew of Apollo 13 were to make it back to Earth alive, the LM would have to support three men for at least 90 hours and successfully navigate more than 200,000 miles of space.

Conditions on board the LM were challenging. The crew went on one-fifth water rations and endured cabin temperatures a few degrees above freezing to conserve energy. The square lithium hydroxide canisters from the CM were not compatible with the round openings in the LM environmental system, meaning the removal of carbon dioxide became a problem. Mission control built an impromptu adapter out of materials known to be onboard, and the crew successfully copied their model.

Navigation was also extremely complicated; the LM had a more rudimentary navigational system, and the astronauts and mission control had to work out by hand the changes in propulsion and direction needed to take the spacecraft home.

On April 14, Apollo 13 swung around the moon. Swigert and Haise took pictures and Lovell talked with mission control about the most difficult maneuver, a five-minute engine burn that would give the LM enough speed to return home before its energy ran out. Two hours after rounding the far side of the moon, the crew, using the sun as an alignment point, fired the LM’s small descent engine. The procedure was a success; Apollo 13 was on its way home.

READ MORE: What Went Wrong on Apollo 13?

Apollo 13 launch

The Farthest Distance From Earth Reached by Humans

On April 15, 1970, Apollo 13 was 254 km (158 miles) from the lunar surface on the far side of the moon—and 400,171 km (248,655 miles) above the Earth’s surface, meaning the crew of Apollo 13 set a Guinness World Record for the farthest distance from Earth reached by humans.

Apollo 13 Crew Returns to Earth

Lovell, Haise and Swigert huddled in the chilly lunar module for three long days. In these dismal conditions, Haise caught the flu. On April 17, a last-minute navigational correction was made using Earth as an alignment guide. Then the re-pressurized CM was successfully powered up. One hour before re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the LM was disengaged from the CM.

Just before 1 p.m. on April 17, 1970, the spacecraft reentered Earth’s atmosphere. Mission control feared that the CM’s heat shields were damaged in the accident and waited a harrowing four minutes without radio communication from the crew. Then, Apollo 13 ‘s parachutes were spotted. All three astronauts splashed down safely into the Pacific Ocean.

Apollo 13 Voyage

Apollo 13 Movie

Though Apollo 13 did not land on the moon, the heroism of the crew and the quick-thinking of mission control were celebrated widely as a success story. It was even made into the 1995 movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon.

apollo 13 movie summary essay

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Is The Apollo 13 Movie Accurate To The True Story?

Tom Hanks Apollo 13

Ron Howard's space disaster movie Apollo 13 earned a lot of attention when released in 1995. The docudrama, which featured massive stars like Tom Hanks , Bill Paxton , and Kevin Bacon , depicted one of the most famous failed space missions and was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Apollo 13 didn't just have a great cast behind it. The movie also received extensive support from the crew that flew the actual Apollo 13 mission and resources from NASA to help lend the film an air of authenticity. In fact, director Ron Howard based the movie's events on Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell's book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 , a well-received, accurate account of what occurred when the mission fell apart in space.

However, Hollywood is well-known for its predilection to move around essential details in the pursuit of a stronger story, and there are plenty of true story movies that have lied to audiences out there. Let's take a look at Apollo 13 to find out if the movie is accurate to the true story.

Experts agree that Apollo 13 is a largely accurate depiction of the true story

While it may be easy for filmmakers to play with facts, Ron Howard committed to portraying events in Apollo 13 as true to life as he could, which many experts agree that he did. NASA planetary scientist Rick Elphic "posits that Apollo 13 might be one of the most accurate, especially when it came to the science of space travel" (via Time ).

Not only did Apollo 13 get the science right, but the film accurately portrayed the events of the real space disaster by adhering to the timeline as recorded in Jim Lovell's book. Beyond that, the filmmakers and set designers went to great effort to recreate the space capsule and command center's actual environment. Lovell told The New York Times , "It's really amazing. Everything. The instrument panels, the console switches. That's exactly what it looks like inside."

Howard didn't stop at recreating the tools that the astronauts used in space. Zero-G scenes were filmed by sending Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton up in the same type of aircraft that reproduces reduced gravity for astronauts to train for space flights in. Short of filming Apollo 13 in space, the film is about an accurate representation of the true story as viewers can hope to see.

Artistic license moves the dial on some of Apollo 13's details

Apollo 13 may do an excellent job portraying the real events, settings, and situations that the actual astronauts found themselves in, but there are a couple of details that the film moves around.

For instance, the astronaut who gets bumped from the mission last minute, Ken Mattingly, played by Gary Sinise in the film, notes some exaggerations during the problem-solving scenes at mission control. While the mission control did simulate the solutions they sent to the Apollo 13 capsule, Mattingly said , "Contrary to the movie and all of those things, we didn't solve any problems in the simulator." NASA devised many of the solutions used ahead of time.

Commander Lovell, whose book the movie was based on, admitted a few changes in the film's version of events as well. The opening scene where Lovell's wife dropped her engagement ring was real, Lovell told the Houston Chronicle  (via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ), except that the ring was retrievable. In addition, when asked during a screening whether the crew was able to halt Apollo 13 within a 38-second window, as depicted in the film, Lovell stated that the actual crew only had 14 seconds.

Houston, we have a dialogue problem

While the majority of changes in Apollo 13 are easy to overlook, fans of the film may be disappointed to learn that some of the most famous lines of dialogue are also slightly off. Tom Hanks' famous line from the movie, and perhaps one of the most famous lines of dialogue from the '90s, "Houston, we have a problem," went a bit different in real life.

On the actual Apollo 13 spaceflight, NASA's official records state that after the crew heard a loud bang and alarms go off, Commander Lovell said, "Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here." Mission control asked Lovell to repeat himself, at which point he said the closest version to Apollo 13's famous line, "Ah, Houston, we've had a problem here."

Another famous line from the movie, attributed to Gene Kranz and spoken by actor Ed Harris, ends his famous motivating speech with "Failure is not an option." While Kranz liked the line and even used it as his memoir's title , he never actually spoke those words during the disaster.


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