In 1970, the Apollo 13 was launched, headed for the moon. But this ill-fated flight would never reach its goal. Instead, its crew would have to handle another crisis - one which endangers not only the mission, but their very lives. But this movie is no sci-fi epic. Based on actual events, Apollo 13 depicts real history.When an explosion rocks the service module, the crew soon realizes that the oxygen tanks aboard the Command Module Odyssey are leaking, forcing Mission Control to abort the landing. The crew shut down Odyssey and power up the Lunar Module Aquarius (which normally could only support two men for a few days) to act as a lifeboat as they slingshot around the far side of the moon. Only ingenuity and the ability to keep their wits about them will allow them to get home safely...Based on Jim Lovell's book on his experience, Lost Moon. In an interesting example, he shot the book idea past publishers, publishers got excited and sent it to filmmakers who immediately started bidding on it, and then someone called Lovell and said Imagine Entertainment was going to make a movie based on it. He hadn't finished the book yet!Director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and star Tom Hanks went on to produce the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.Make sure you listen to the commentary track by the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell.
Almost Out Of Oxygen: Initially played deadly straight, as the Odyssey depends on the rapidly venting liquid oxygen for power as well as simple breathing. Inverted once Aquarius is online; due to multiple planned moonwalks (which would have required venting the entire LEM), they have plenty of breathing oxygen, but they also have too much CO2 in their air. They need to MacGyver a carbon dioxide filter in order to avoid Hypercapnia. See Duct Tape For Everything, below.
Artificial Gravity: Inverted; zero-gravity sequences were filmed on NASA's KC-135 plane, nicknamed the "Vomit Comet." The three actors playing astronauts in this film have, in fact, more hours in the "Vomit Comet" than any actual astronauts!
Of course, there are a good number of scenes where they do it the old-fashioned way: standing on boxes pretending to float.
Artistic License: The three astronauts remained surprisingly cool under pressure in real life, but the movie ramped up emotional tensions between them for dramatic effect.
Badass: It's a movie about NASA, during a period in which the US government was serious about manned space flight. Nothing more needs to be said.
Badass Boast: "If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it."
The guy who comes up with the design of the jury-rigged CO2 filter earns the title of "Steely-eyed missile man", a title previously bestowed on the man who'd saved the Apollo 12 launch after a lightning strike.
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Lovell's actual observation was, "Houston, we've had a problem." It is hard to tell the difference between the two phrases in the recording and Word Of God states it was deliberately changed to present-tense "have" because the original quote of "had" implied that the problem was over.
There's the more traditional (trope-wise) big board at the front of mission control showing, at various times in the movie, plot-relevant status updates of the mission (i.e., status of the main engines, the current position of the astronauts, etc.)
After the explosion and Kranz calls a meeting in a side room, he uses a chalkboard to draw the Earth, moon, and the current position of the astronauts - for the audience, this is used to explain what is meant by "free-return trajectory" vs. "direct abort", as well as (later on) how far 45 hours would get the astronauts.
Billions of Buttons: So many, in fact, that NASA sent the commander of Apollo 15 as a button wrangler to make sure they did it right.
Bittersweet Ending: Apollo 13 was called a "successful failure", in that they returned home safely, but did not land on the moon as originally intended, making Jim Lovell the only Apollo astronaut who flew to the moon twice without landing*
John Young and Eugene Cernan were both on Apollo 10, but got to land on 16 and 17 respectively
Early in the film Jim Lovell's son asks him about the Apollo 1 fire; he tells his son that one of the problems was that the door would not open. Later, when Mrs. Lovell starts to explain to young Jeffrey that something went wrong on his father's mission, Jeffrey asks, "Was it the door?"
During the in-flight broadcast, Jack Swigert mentions that he forgot to file his taxes. Later, he's informed that the president granted him an extension on his taxes, since he is "most decidedly out of the country".
Ken Mattingly gets bumped from the flight of Apollo 13 because of exposure to the measles. Later, as they're preparing to reenter the Earth's atmosphere, Mattingly takes CAPCOM. Lovell asks him, "Are the flowers blooming in Houston?" Mattingly replies, "Uh, that's a negative, Jim, I don't have the measles.", as he glares at the flight surgeon.
Ironically, this is one of the things that saved 13 - between Mattingly and Swigert, Mattingly was the better engineer and Swigert was the better pilot. Also, Swigert (in Real Life) had written many of the emergency procedures the astronauts ended up using; lucky, then, that he was aboard.
The crew 'mutiny' by ripping off their medical monitors. Guess what Haise can be seen throwing around later when the crew needs to adjust the weight on the ship?
Aside from Ron Howard's relatives, he also put in movie producer Roger Corman (as the congressman who questions continuing the Apollo program) and Todd Hallowell, the film's Executive Producer, (as the guy that yells at Jim Lovell at a traffic light). Walter Cronkite does the prologue narration.
The real Jim Lovell has a role as the captain of the aircraft carrier that recovers the crew after splashdown. This role is doubly appropriate, as Lovell is a retired Navy captain. He was originally going to appear as an admiral, but he told the producers something along the lines of "I retired as a captain so I'll be a captain."
The real Marilyn Lovell also has a cameo as one of the spectators at the launch.
Gene Kranz at mission control is a model leader who commands respect. Unassuming but firm, he's cool on many levels; he's calm and collected, exactly what is required when time is at the essence, makes critical, unprecedented and right decisions on his feet and never fails to be assertive but polite. When the occasion requires it he's stingy without being smug and proudly shoots down any defeatism. His empathy solidifies him as the perfect captain.
Jim Lovell obviously, the savvy, competent and balanced commander of the Apollo 13. Fittingly, he was officially Captain James Lovell, United States Navy.
Captain Obvious: CAPCOM, which was just doing its job, but the astronauts were understandably tense.
CAPCOM: Aquarius, watch that middle gimbal. We don't want you tumbling off into space.
Jim Lovell: Freddo, inform Houston I'm well aware of the God-damned gimbals!
Crazy-Prepared: Averted. Some of the things the Apollo 13 crew had to do (such as hook up the carbon dioxide scrubbers from one craft to the other) even the people in charge of planning for really weird stuff hadn't even considered.
Jim Lovell himself said in the 1996 documentary shown in the DVD Bonus Features, "...if we had to train for all of that going on at one time, I would still be down at the Cape training for the launch!"
Consider this: Early designs of the Apollo mission's mode considered a single monolithic spacecraft that landed on the moon. This design was dismissed in favor of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous to save weight, which formed two spacecraft with independent life support, electrical, navigation and propellant systems...and docked in such as way that the lunar lander's main engine and reaction control systems could possibly be used while it was still attached to the Command/Service Module. If Earth Orbit Rendezvous was used (assuming similar design flaws would have been kept in that design), this movie would depict a grim tragedy instead. Even with the two-spacecraft design, if the accident occurred after a moon landing attempt (with the bulk of the Lunar Module's resources spent in landing), the crew's chances of survival were essentially gone.
Ken Mattingly, in regards to the technicians that came up with the power-up procedure in the second half of the film (he is depicted fairly accurately in the first hour, though.).
Inverted with the team of engineers who devise the solution to making the Command Module's air filters fit the incompatible slots of the Lunar Module's filters. In real life, only one engineer devised the solution, while driving to work.
Loren Dean is credited as "EECOM Arthur", but is given the role of several Houston flight controllers and engineers, most notably John Aaron, Mission Control's premier "steely-eyed missile man".
Conflict Ball: One arises by way of Jack Swigert trying to bring to the crew's attention to a prediction he made of the module not having a steep enough return trajectory, before hitting his head and cursing out of frustration. The ensuing argument tips them off that they were all thinking slightly less rationally than usual, by Houston alerting them to their high carbon dioxide levels, and Haise's math error in calculating CO 2 ratios around two people's breathing, not three.
Continuous Decompression: The dream sequence, apparently based on a real dream Marilyn Lovell had shortly before the launch.
Conveniently Close Planet: The craft was launched in a way to make it easy to get back to Earth - however this was the first time in human history where people were in a crippled spacecraft and had to get back home, and had to deal with the challenges of getting back to Earth and not merely bouncing off the atmosphere or burning up or dying and mummifying in orbit. The fastest way home would have been to turn the ship around and fire the service propulsion system (SPS) engine, which was twice as powerful as it needed to be... Kranz nixed this option because the explosion meant no one knew how badly damaged the service module was. The SPS engine had likely been damaged in the explosion as implied in the final stage when Lovell observes it, so Kranz choice and the use of the Lunar Module with its life support systems intact was the right thing to do.
Truth in Television, as auto makers at the time loved to give discounted (or even free) models to the astronauts so they could market their latest cars as "the choice of the astronauts!" Corvettes like Jim's were particularly popular with the astronaut corps.
Darkest Hour: The American space program is on the brink of one its major disasters, but it's successfully inverted.
Chris Kraft: This could be the worst disaster NASA's ever faced. Gene Kranz: With all due respect, sir, I believe this will be our finest hour.
Decomposite Character: The team of engineers who figured how to make the Command Module's air filters fit the (incompatible) slots of the Lunar Module were a decomposition of a single engineer who devised the solution while driving to work.
Walter Cronkite: ...And if anything else goes wrong, they'll be in real trouble.
As explained in the book, the actual mission included two other course correction burns and at least one additional serious problem, not shown in the movie. Ron Howard said he left these out for fear that the real story would be too melodramatic.
Disney Death: Communications black out during re-entry, and all the audience can see is Mission Control and Lovell's family awaiting for contact re-established. After three minutes (the longest a blackout had been sustained before a prior crew arrived safely), still no contact. After four minutes, still no contact. Eventually, there's contact, but the movie makes sure to make every character and every audience member sweats it out.
Doing It for the Art: The research, period detail and accuracy were highly praised by the people who had been there.
Many of the makers, including Ron Howard, mention that part of their motivation for being so accurate was the likelihood that by the time of the next trip to the moon, most people who experienced the Apollo Program first-hand will have passed on, meaning that Apollo 13 may be the closest thing to a moon landing several generations get to see.
Drowning My Sorrows: After he gets scrubbed from the mission so soon before liftoff, Ken Mattingly drinks heavily, switching off his TV in disgust at hearing a talk show host talking about his replacement Jack Swigert. He gets over that after learning about the accident. The real Mattingly was at Mission Control when the accident happened.
Duct Tape For Everything: Part of the solution for how they got home. It allowed the air filter for the command module to fit the (incompatible) filter opening for the lunar module, so that the astronauts would not choke on their own exhaled carbon dioxide. The duct tape was aboard the spacecraft in the first place simply as a means of stopping crap from floating around the cabin, an usage seen earlier in the movie.
Dyeing For Your Art: Many of the weightless scenes were filmed in actual weightlessness aboard a NASA Vomit Comet. Other scenes were filmed in one gravity, using camera tricks, on a sound stage that was chilled to 34 degrees Fahrenheit so the actors' breathing would fog visibly.
Though the material being vented was oxygen rather than steam.
In the Real Life Apollo 13, steam venting from a cooling system on the LM was responsible for the "shallowing" that threatened the re-entry rather than an overburn of the engine as depicted in the film. As water boils off into steam it takes heat with it, making it a pretty useful way of getting rid of excess heat in an environment where conduction and convection are out of the question. The LM was not meant to be powered up for the trans-lunar or trans-earth phases of the mission (it wasn't meant to be even attached any more for the trans-earth coast) so the effects of the steam vent had never been observed before.
Furthermore, the reason they ran out of electric power was because they ran out of oxygen to feed the fuel cells, a technology first used on the Apollo spacecraft. In the cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined at high temperatures, producing electricity... and steam, which was condensed into water for drinking and cooling.
Everybody Smokes: Mission Control is stuffed to the vents with smokers and ashtrays are as prominent as flashing lights. Punctuated during the Go/No-Go sequence where the flight surgeon blows out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke.
Gene Kranz stated in a documentary that the "smell" of Mission Control was the mix of "cigarette smoke and boiled-over coffee pots."
Each station at Mission Control had a built-in ashtray. Enough said.
Facepalm: Several. The level of frustration in the film runs extremely high, from malfunctioning equipment to accidents to outright stupidity, and the characters show it.
At one point, Flight Director Gene Kranz reacts with a subtle one and some exasperated snarking on learning that the only available spare carbon-dioxide scrubbers on the stricken spacecraft (from the dead Command Module) are square, and the receptacle for the only working scrubber system (in the Lunar Module) is round.
Gene Kranz:(facepalm) Tell me this isn't a government operation... I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.
Another one happens a little later on, when Mission Control MacGyver's a solution, which includes using their spare urine bag. Which leads to this exchange:
Fred Haise: Shit, I tore it.
Jack Swigert: Shit.
Fred Haise: Houston, what do we do if we rip the bag? Can we tape it?
Flatline: The flight surgeon at the control room freaks out when the astronauts' monitors flatline, but they hear their voices through the radios fine, and the director assures him that the astronauts simply took their medical leads off. They did so because they were tired of hearing the operators fuss about their heart rate.
Grasp the Sun: On Earth, Lovell closes one eye to 'cover' the moon with his thumb. Later, from his spacecraft, he does the same to the Earth.
Good Is Boring: All the networks dropped the Apollo 13 live broadcast - but took up coverage the moment things went bad.
Viewer and network coverage complacency about the launch was made worse because Apollo 12's flight was virtually videoless due to the accidental destruction of their only video camera while on the moon. Almost two years passed before viewers could care about seeing a man walk on the moon again.
Marilyn Lovell: (arriving at NASA to watch it) Where's their broadcast? Henry: All the networks dumped us. One of them said we make goin' to the moon as exciting as taking a trip to Pittsburgh.
Later, Marilyn is understandably angry when she gets a request from the news networks to put a tower for live broadcast on her lawn:
Marilyn: I thought they didn't care about this mission. They didn't even run Jim's show.
Henry: Well, it's more dramatic now. Suddenly people are...
Marilyn: Landing on the moon wasn't dramatic enough for them - why should NOT landing on it be?
Henry: Look, I, um, I realize how hard this is, Marilyn, but the whole world is caught up in this, it's historic-...
Marilyn: No, Henry! Those people don't put one piece of equipment on my lawn. If they have a problem with that, they can take it up with my husband. He'll be HOME... on FRIDAY!
Gosh Dang It to Heck!: "I don't need to hear the obvious, I've got the frapping eight ball right in front of me!"
Historical In-Joke: During the live broadcast, the CAPCOM notes, "When I go up on 19, I'm gonna bring my entire collection of Johnny Cash along.". Sadly, Apollo 17 was the last mission to go to the moon. (This was also a reference to the fact that most of the CAPCOMs at the time were fellow astronauts, either members of past Apollo missions or in-training for future missions.)
19 did go up, but as a Skylab mission, not a lunar one.
Hollywood Science: Mostly averted. One great example: After the explosion, pieces of debris surround and follow the spacecraft (as much of the drifting debris must share the same velocity as the spacecraft since there is no air to create drag). The debris logically disappears after the (off-screen) PC+2 burn to get the crew home as fast as possible.
Lost Wedding Ring: This sequence was only slightly exaggerated for teh dramaz, though the initial Los Angeles Times review criticized this "invention." Marilyn Lovell did drop her wedding ring in the shower, but she was able to retrieve it; still, the experience was less than reassuring.
MacGyvering: The engineers and the astronauts had to do this to adapt the lander's completely differently designed air filters with the command module's before the crew suffocated. Unfortunately, the great scene where the engineers run in carrying all the gear that the craft would have and saying they have to make a filter adapter out of that pile didn't happen in real life; an engineer figured it out on the drive to Mission Control when called up for the emergency.
An artifact of the filming process. The actors in the spacecraft really are in freefall, as mentioned in the Artificial Gravity entry above, but the set is attached to the KC-135; as the plane is buffeted by the atmosphere, the set actually bobs around the actors, making it look like they're shifting about even when they're not touching any walls.
A large portion of the spacecraft shots were done on a sound stage in normal gravity, with the actors required to fake weightlessness; however, because the actors had already filmed in freefall, they were able to adjust their behavior accordingly.
Missed Him By That Much: Marilyn Lovell did come to Mission Control to see the astronauts broadcast. The explosion happened between her leaving mission control and getting home. Good thing they waited until after the broadcast to stir the tanks.
Mood Whiplash: Cuts right from Jack Swigert's reaction to being told he's going to the moon to Ken Mattingly's reaction to being told he's not going to the moon...
The Mutiny: When the astronauts pull their medical leads off, FLIGHT shrugs it off as "A little medical mutiny", because they've been under an understandable amount of stress.
Negated Moment of Awesome: The mission was going to be flight commander Jim Lovell's Crowning Moment of Awesome. He was planning on retiring from NASA after this mission, and what better way to do it than by walking on the moon, after previously flying to it on Apollo 8. Unfortunately, an explosion in mid-flight means having to abort the moon landing, thereby making Lovell the only astronaut to travel to the moon twice without actually landing.
No Antagonist: The damage was accidental and not sabotage, the astronauts argue but cooperate, and NASA is honest and labors to get their men back. Characters such as the flight surgeon, the jackalesque media and the political liasons come off unsympathetic or callous, but that's all.
Nobody Poops: Jim laments that they can't show how the bathrooms aboard the module work during their live broadcast. We then get a beautiful shot of his pee spraying out into space. They also have to resort to bagging their waste once the emergency occurs, as dumping it would only throw off their trajectory.
Nothing But Hits: Anytime anyone is listening to the radio, and "Spirit in the Sky" on tape during the mission.
Nothing Is Scarier: Three minutes of radio silence was the longest any previous mission had gone during a successful reentry. Apollo 13 was out of contact for four. With everything that had gone on up till then, this was the most nerve-wracking four minutes in NASA history.
Not Me This Time: Fred Haise has been using the cabin repress valve, which causes a sharp banging sound, to mess with the other astronauts. When the oxygen tank explodes and the entire ship starts shaking, he rushes in saying, "That's no repress valve!"
The moment that it really hits how screwed they are:
Lovell: Freddo, how long does it take to power up the LEM?
Haise: Three hours, by the checklist.
Lovell: We don't have that much time.
A small one happens when Jim irately demands that Mission Control give them the command module power-up procedure only to have Deke Slayton cut in on the radio to tell him to be patient. The Apollo 13 astronauts knew full well that only the CAPCOM officer at Mission Control was supposed to communicate with the flight crew directly; so when their boss Deke broke protocol and personally got on the radio to talk to them, all three astronauts immediately realized the status of the power-up procedure:
Phlebotinum Analogy: News anchors describing how narrow of a window the Odyssey has for a safe reentry.
In order to enter the atmosphere safely, the crew must aim for a corridor just two and a half degrees wide. ... The reentry corridor is, in fact, so narrow that if this basketball were the Earth, and this softball were the Moon, and the two were placed fourteen feet apart, the crew would have to hit a target no thicker than this piece of paper.
Sy Liebergot: It's- it's reading a quadruple failure - that can't happen... It's got to be instrumentation.
Reality Is Unrealistic: A preview audience member criticized the "typical Hollywood ending", and even those familiar with the basic story have assumed that certain historically accurate parts of the film (most notably the scene where Marilyn Lovell loses her wedding ring) were invented for dramatic reasons.
The wedding ring shower scene was exaggerated somewhat. In real life, the ring did slip off her finger, but it was too big to fall through the drain trap and Marilyn was able to retrieve it.
At first stage ignition, the Saturn V launch shows great balls of fire blooming out from around the engines, and then shrinking right back down again. Jim Lovell commented on this, saying that many people believed that the film was merely being run backwards; however, actual footage of the launches shows the fireball retreating in this way.
Reality Subtext: The last thing Jim tells Marilyn before the mission, "You can't live without me...", was, in fact, the first thing he said to her upon getting home.
Real-Life Relative: Ron Howard's brother Clint, as usual in Ron Howard movies. ("Gene, the Odyssey is dying.") Additionally, Howard's mother Jean plays Jim Lovell's mother Blanche, and Howard's father Rance appears as the minister watching Apollo 13's splashdown from the Lovell house.
Behind the scenes, associate producer Michael Bostick is the son of Jerry Bostick, the flight dynamics officer (FIDO) played by Ray McKinnon. The real Bostick also served as a technical advisor.
Recognition Failure: Lovell's mother doesn't recognize Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they arrive to give support.
Reentry Scare: It didn't help that the newscaster demonstrated re-entry by putting a blowtorch to a plastic model of the Apollo Command Module.
Reverse The Polarity: Justified. Shortly before re-entry they needed "four more amps" to power up the Command Module. They used a circuit intended to provide power from the Command Module to the Lunar Module to do the opposite.
Retirony: Narrowly averted; Jim Lovell announces that Apollo 13 is going to be his last mission.
Gene Kranz: I want you guys to find every engineer who designed every switch, every circuit, every transistor and every light bulb that's up there. Then I want you to talk to the guy in the assembly line who actually built the thing. Find out how to squeeze every amp out of both of these goddamn machines. I want this mark all the way back to Earth with time to spare. We never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!
Also a Beam Me Up, Scotty! moment: Kranz never actually said "failure is not an option" during the Apollo 13 mission. However, he believed that line perfectly captured the attitude of Mission Control, and used it as the title of his autobiography.
Science Hero: The three astronauts and most of the personnel at mission control. Their ingenuity turns a doomed scenario into one of NASA's finest hours.
Space Is Cold: Justified as the real Apollo 13 did ice up. The spacecraft really did lose heat throughout the mission to the point where ice crystals were starting to form. The spacecraft designers knew that the electronics and fuel cells would generate a lot of heat, so they built the LEM and CM with plenty of radiator surfaces to dump the heat out into space. But with the fuel cells out of commission, and not enough power to run the electronics or cabin heaters...
Lampshaded when Jim Lovell shows off to some VIPs visiting Cape Canaveral "a computer that can fit inside a single room."
Ron Howard also makes sure to show the engineers in Mission Control busting out slide rules as they try to figure out what's happening.
The new instructions for the CO2 adapter and the powerup checklist were physically brought to flight control, and they were hand-written. They were read out to the flight crew. No e-mail or uploading here.
Techno Babble: An example of Real Life technobabble, as much of the dialogue was taken from the actual recordings of the conversations between the astronauts and mission control, and is used in a more-or-less correct way. Also counts as a Bilingual Bonus if you're an engineer.
"Looks like we just had our glitch for this mission."
NASA's attitude towards the number 13 prior to the mission - the mission number, liftoff at 1:13 PM (1313 in 24-hour time), entering lunar orbit on April 13th.
Marilyn: Naturally, it's 13. Why 13?
Jim: It comes after 12, hon.
Thirteen Is Unlucky: No NASA mission after this one has been numbered 13. STS-13 was planned, but never occurred due to delays in the development of the shuttle and a change in the numbering of missions resulted in the program going from STS-9 to STS-41B. STS-113 did happen, mostly without incident other than weather conditions delaying the landing for 3 days.
Tim Taylor Technology: Inverted. The crew had to consume as little power as possible during the trip back to Earth, or they wouldn't have enough left to restart the Command Module. Furthermore, they had to ensure that their improvised CM power-up sequence didn't draw more than 20 amps (instead of the usual 65) from the CM's batteries, or they wouldn't have enough power to last through the whole reentry.