The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

40 Years Since Apollo 13

Today marks 40 years since Mission Control received one of the most famous transmissions in history: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”  This simple sentence (which seems like an understatement in retrospect) started one of the most dramatic survival stories in human history, watched by millions around the country.

Most people know the story from the excellent movie Apollo 13.  As good as it was, the movie couldn’t tell the whole story (it would have been several days long!)  The website Universe Today is currently in the early stages of an interesting series 13 Things that Saved Apollo 13 (enter Apollo 13 into the search box to find all the parts…would be nice if they put a little link to the entire series there). The series is based on the work of Jerry Woodfill, an engineer at NASA who was there for Apollo 13.

The first three parts are up and focus on the timing of the explosion, a stuck hatch that actually helped the crew, and why Ken Mattingly’s measles scare turned out to be a good thing in terms of getting them back alive.  As a bonus, today’s episode of the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast features an interview with Jerry Woodfill.

I was REALLY young at the time so can’t say I remember anything specific about Apollo 13 (although I do remember watching some Apollo launches, including Apollo 17 because I got to stay up WAY past my bedtime and that was a big deal!)  Even though I know how it ends, I still find the story more gripping and scarier than anything our masters of horror have managed to dream up…and more fulfilling when the astronauts and the fine people at Mission Control triumph in the end.

April 13, 2010 - Posted by | NASA

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