How Accurate Was The Apollo 13 Film? 5 Facts & The Stories Behind Them.

How Accurate Was The Apollo 13 Film? 5 Facts & The Stories Behind Them.

The 17th of April celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, a manned moon-faring mission that has since been hailed a "successful failure". One of our cherished ARSE followers has some questions on the accuracy of Ron Howard's portrayal. 

"Oi ARSE, 
We recently watched Apollo 13 on its anniversary and we were wondering how much of it was Hollywood and how much was actually happening?


Good to meet you G-man and a great question that's very topical at the moment. When Apollo 13 hit the cinemas in 1995 it did so to glowing praise from movie-goers, critics, and even the astronauts while bagging two Oscar wins.

But how much of what happened a fallacy, you ask?
You asked ARSE, and we're only happy to answer. 

When the trio of astronauts - Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) - have to defy almost insurmountable odds to return safely to Earth after a catastrophic oxygen tank explosion and consumption of most of their supplies. 

To add insult to injury, if they re-entered the atmosphere on the wrong angle they'd either die in space or be barbecued.

Sounds unbelievable?
Well, let's find out what is and isn't.

Jim Lovell did not say "Houston, we have a problem"

1. Did Jim Lovell Actually Say "Houston, We Have A Problem"?

Certainly, the most popular phrase that came from the events that transpired was this line dropped by Lovell (Hanks) that transcended into mainstream vocabulary.

When something goes wrong, "Houston, we have a problem."

Apollo 13's command module went dark approximately 200,000 miles from Earth and the line is dropped to NASA's control centre with all personnel holding their breath. 

Only thing is, Lovell never said the line from the film. 

What was actually said is as follows:

Haise: "Houston, we've had a problem. Okay, Houston -"

Swigert: "I believe we've had a problem here."

Mission Control: "This is Houston. Say again, please."

Lovell: "Uh, Houston, we've had a problem."

So why change it?

Dramatic effect.

The crew said "... we've had a problem." twice, which makes the conversation the audience overhears seem like the problem is over, as it is presented in the past tense. 

The use of present tense makes for better comprehension and communicates the fact that the problem is current and occurring in real-time. 

Also, Swigert saying he believes they have a problem is just a touch confusing for the audience. It would almost sound sarcastic on film!

Yes mate, you've definitely had a problem. 

The Apollo 13 crew did not actually fight.

2. Did The Crew Fight?

In an interview, Jim Lovell confirmed that the hostile interactions between crewmembers were fictitious. A bit more "Hollywood" to fuel the tension and suspense while creating an emotional response to the audience. The crew were consummate professionals and focussed entirely on the task at hand; to return home safely and survive against near-impossible odds. 

This served as the most contested part of the film that the Apollo 13 crew were not happy with and were at odds with director Ron Howard. All astronauts shared a healthy and mutually respectful relationship and did not want this to be misrepresented in the media, especially in such a high budget film. 

No one at Mission Control lost their temper as shown in the film.

3. The Freakout.

In the film, flight director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) has an explosive outburst at Misson Control personnel, that many would tell you was a total fabrication. Kranz, by his own admission and backed by others, was calm and acted with focussed precision to save the lives of the Apollo 13 crew. 

Kranz displayed extraordinary leadership skills and coordinated the crack "Tiger Team" of flight directors in safely returning all three astronauts back to Earth.

The Apollo 13 crew used makeshift tools to stop the CO2 problem in under an hour.

4. The Duct Tape.

One of the many hurdles the astronaut trio had to overcome during the Apollo mission was removing the excess carbon dioxide from the spacecraft's air to prevent the crew from eventually slipping into a coma and dying. 

The lander module is was designed for two people at a maximum occupancy time of two days and ended up as a plan B for the crew to seek refuge. When three people entered for the needed four days, innovation was needed to ensure survival. 

The film shows Kranz directing the Apollo 13 crew to affix a square lithium hydroxide canisters to a rounded opening complete with a flight plan cover and a space suit hose.

The team combined the flight plan cover, a plastic bag, and the hose over the spacecraft's circulation fan with the help of duct tape and solved the carbon dioxide problem in under an hour. 

Gene Kranz, flight director at Mission Control during Apollo 13, never actually said "failure is not an option".

5. "Failure Is Not An Option."

Despite Harris saying the phrase in the film and adopting it in the title of his book, Kranz never actually said: "Failure is not an option". Again, Kranz has attested he is quite cool and measured when at the helm as the flight director and such a phrase would put tremendous undue pressure on his crew. Mission Control understand every nuance and odds involved at any given time and melodramatic statements do not serve as productive. 

Kranz does admit he has bolstered the team with:

"I have never lost an American in space., sure as hell not going to lose one now. This crew is coming home. You got to believe it. Your team must believe it. And we must make it happen."

Although, as art often imitates life, we can't deny the movie quote makes for a great book title. 

Aside from the dramatic flairs used to make the film more digestible and immersive for the audience, the film is very accurate to the pleasure of those involved in the events. 

This was at the forefront of Ron Howard's directive vision, and made for a fantastic end product that is celebrated in the minds of all space fans when we hear the words "Apollo 13".

Thanks for asking ARSE Graham, and keep spreading ARSE champion.

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