50 Years Later: 'Houston, We've Had a Problem'

Apollo 13's nearly doomed flight is marking the anniversary this week
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 9, 2020 4:50 PM CDT
50 Years Later: 'Houston, We've Had a Problem'
In this April 17, 1970, photo made available by NASA, the command module carrying the Apollo 13 crew parachutes to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.   (NASA via AP)

Apollo 13's astronauts never gave a thought to their mission number as they blasted off for the moon 50 years ago. Even when their oxygen tank ruptured two days later—on April 13. Jim Lovell and Fred Haise insist they’re not superstitious. They even use 13 in their email addresses. As mission commander Lovell sees it, he's incredibly lucky. Not only did he survive NASA’s most harrowing moonshot, he’s around to mark its golden anniversary. “I’m still alive. As long as I can keep breathing, I’m good,” Lovell, 92, said in an interview with the AP from his Lake Forest, Illinois, home. A half-century later, Apollo 13 is still considered Mission Control’s finest hour. Lovell calls it “a miraculous recovery.” Haise, like so many others, regards it as NASA’s most successful failure. It showed "what can be done if people use their minds and a little ingenuity, said the 86-year-old.

Lovell, Haise, and Jack Swigert, a last-minute fill-in who died in 1982, were almost to the moon when they heard a bang and felt a shudder. One of two oxygen tanks had burst in the spacecraft's service module. The tense words that followed are the stuff of space—and movie—fame. “OK, Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” radioed Swigert, the command module pilot. “This is Houston. Say again, please.” “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” Lovell cut in. Soon, the aborted mission went from being so humdrum that none of the major TV networks broadcast the astronauts’ show-and-tell minutes before the explosion, to a life-and-death drama gripping the entire world. Read the full story for details on how NASA flight controllers and the crew itself scrambled to pull off the life-saving return to Earth.

(Read more Apollo 13 stories.)

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