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Image: Apollo 13


'Houston, we've had a problem': 50 years after Apollo 13's near-tragedy

Apollo 13 was supposed to be NASA's third lunar landing mission but an oxygen leak necessitated an emergency return home.

Image: Apollo 13

Original crew

Members of the original Apollo 13 crew, from left, commander Jim Lovell, command module pilot Ken Mattingly, and lunar module pilot Fred Haise pose in December 1969.

Days before the mission, the crew was inadvertently exposed to German measles. Mattingly had no immunity to the virus and was replaced by backup command module pilot, Jack Swigert.

A Saturn V rocket launches with the Apollo 13 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on April 11, 1970.


The Apollo 13 Saturn V rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 11, 1970.

Image: Apollo 13

The moon landing that never was

An artist's conception from March 1970 shows Lovell and Haise exploring the surface of the moon. Behind them is the lunar module.

But the lunar landing was not to be. Instead, some 56 hours into the Apollo 13 mission, on April 13, 1970, oxygen tank No. 2 exploded, causing oxygen tank No. 1 to also fail. The command module's normal supply of electricity, light, and water was lost as they flew more than 200,000 miles from Earth.

Swigert saw a warning light that accompanied the bang and radioed mission control: "Houston, we've had a problem here." 

Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical via NASA
S70-34986 (14 April 1970) --- A group of six astronauts and two flight controllers monitor the console activity in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) of the Mission Control Center (MCC) during the problem-plagued Apollo 13 lunar landing mission. Seated, left to right, are MOCR Guidance Officer Raymond F. Teague; astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, Apollo 14 prime crew lunar module pilot; and astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., Apollo 14 prime crew commander. Standing, left to right, are scientist-astronaut Anthony W. England; astronaut Joe H. Engle, Apollo 14 backup crew lunar module pilot; astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 14 backup crew commander; astronaut Ronald E. Evans, Apollo 14 backup crew command module pilot; and M.P. Frank, a flight controller. When this picture was made, the Apollo 13 moon landing had already been canceled, and the Apollo 13 crew men were in trans-Earth trajectory attempting to bring their damaged spacecraft back home.

Working on a rescue

Astronauts and flight controllers monitor the console activity in Mission Control on April 14.

Seated, left to right, are control room guidance officer Raymond Teague and Apollo 14 astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard. Standing, left to right, are scientist-astronaut Anthony England and backup Apollo 14 crew members Joe Engle, Eugene Cernan, and Ronald Evans. 

French Newspapers Report Apollo 13

The news in France

Parisians stop on the sidewalk to read about the Apollo 13 accident. 

The aborted mission went from being so humdrum that none of the major U.S. TV networks broadcast the astronauts’ show-and-tell minutes before the explosion, to a life-and-death drama gripping the entire world.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive
Children from St. Andrew's Church of England School, Eastern Green, Coventry, prayed for astronauts safe return from the

Prayers in England

School children in Coventry pray for the astronauts' safe return on April 15. 

Mirrorpix / Mirrorpix via Getty Images
During their lunar pass on April 14, 1970, the crew of the Apollo 13 mission captured this view of the Tsiolkovsky crater on the far side of the moon, the hemisphere of the Moon that always faces away from Earth.

Far side of the moon

During Apollo 13's lunar pass on April 14, the crew captured this view of the Tsiolkovsky crater on the far side of the moon, the hemisphere that always faces away from Earth.

Image: Apollo 13

Tense moments at Mission Control

Flight controllers and NASA officials confer at the flight director's console on April 16, as they attempt to bring the crippled spacecraft home. 

Image: Earth

Returning home

A view of Earth captured by an Apollo 13 crew member during their journey home. 

Apollo 13 Service Module

The damage

The severely damaged Apollo 13 service module was photographed following its jettison on April 17.

The damage to the service module caused the crew to use the lunar module as a "lifeboat." It was also jettisoned just prior to Earth re-entry later that day.

Three of the four Apollo 13 Flight Directors applaud the successful splashdown of the Command Module 'Odyssey' while Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, Director, Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), and Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., MSC Deputy Director, light up cigars (upper left). The Flight Directors are from left to right: Gerald D. Griffin, Eugene F. Kranz and Glynn S. Lunney - April 17, 1970 (Photo by NASA/ullstein bild via Getty Images)


Flight directors applaud the splashdown of the Apollo 13 crew. 

Helicopter Recovering Apollo 13 Capsule

Recovering the crew

A Navy helicopter hovers over the Apollo 13 capsule in the South Pacific as frogmen release the astronauts on April 17. The USS Iwo Jima recovery vessel waits nearby.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive
S70-35610 (17 April 1970) --- A water level view of the Apollo 13 recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean. The three astronauts as seen egressing their spacecraft. John L. Swigert Jr. (back to camera), command module pilot, is already in the life raft. Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot, facing camera, is stepping into the life raft. James A. Lovell Jr., commander, is leaving the spacecraft in the background. A United States Navy underwater demolition team assists with the recovery operations. The three crewmembers were picked up by helicopter and flown to the prime recovery ship, USS Iwo Jima. The Apollo 13 Command Module (CM) splashed down at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970, to conclude safely a perilous space flight. Though the Apollo lunar landing mission was canceled, a disastrous loss of three astronauts was averted.

Aboard the life raft

Haise steps into the life raft, center, as the crew is recovered. Swigert, back to camera, is already in the raft. Lovell is the last man out of the module. 

S70-35614 (17 April 1970) --- The crewmembers of the Apollo 13 mission, step aboard the USS Iwo Jima, prime recovery ship for the mission, following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean. Exiting the helicopter which made the pick-up some four miles from the Iwo Jima are (from left) astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot; James A. Lovell Jr., commander; and John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot. The crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft splashed down at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970.

Aboard the Iwo Jima

From left, Haise, Lovell, and Swigert step aboard the USS Iwo Jima. 

Marilyn Lovell is shown with her with children, from left, Susan, Barbara and Jeffrey, as she speaks to the media after her husband Jim Lovell's safe splashdown in Apollo 13 following its aborted lunar landing mission, April 17, 1970. (AP Photo)

Relieved family members

Marilyn Lovell stands with her children, from left, Susan, Barbara, and Jeffrey, as she speaks to the media after her husband's safe splashdown on April 17. 

Confetti pours from the skyscrapers in Chicago?s financial district, May 1, 1970 as Apollo 13 astronauts John Swigert Jr., waving left, and James Lovell ride in a motorcade during a parade in their honor. (AP Photo)

Ticker tape parade

Confetti pours from skyscrapers in Chicago's financial district on May 1, 1970, as Swigert, waving at left, and Lovell ride in a motorcade during a parade in their honor. 

Photos: The 12 men who walked on the moon