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Apollo 13 is a 1995 Adventure Drama film that dramatized the ill-fated lunar mission of the same name in 1970. The movie was adapted by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert from the book Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, and was directed by Ron Howard. It stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise .

The film garnered critical acclaim and was nominated for many awards, most notably nine Oscars and won for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing at the 68th Academy Awards..

The film was released in theaters on June 30, 1995. In 2002, a shortened version of the film was re-released on IMAX. A 10th anniversary DVD of the film was released in 2005; it included both the theatrical version and the IMAX version, along with several extras. In 2006, Apollo 13 made its way into the high-definition video format with its release on HD DVD.


On July 20, 1969, veteran astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) is on his way home from a party for the Apollo 11 moon landing. After witnessing Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon, Lovell tells his wife, Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan), of his wish for a moon landing of his own.

A few months later, Lovell, who's expecting to fly Apollo 14, is giving a VIP tour of NASA's towering Vehicle Assembly Buildingmarker while the massive Saturn V rocket is being assembled. As the US representatives question the need for any further moon landings after beating the Soviet Union to the moon, Lovell is informed by Deke Slayton (Chris Ellis) that he and his crew have been bumped up to be prime crew of Apollo 13. After informing his family of his new flight assignment, Lovell and his crew, Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) begin training for Apollo 13 instead of Apollo 14. As the launch date approaches, Marilyn's fears for her husband's fourth space mission manifest in nightmares and her unwillingness to go to the launch. Two days before launch, Lovell is informed that Mattingly had been exposed to German measles. Despite his efforts to overrule the flight surgeon's recommendations, Lovell bumps Mattingly off the flight. He is replaced by the backup Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), much to the chagrin of Haise and Mattingly.

On April 11, 1970, Lovell, Haise and Swigert are suited up for the launch. In Houston's Mission Control Center, Apollo 13 flight director Eugene F. Kranz (Ed Harris) prepares Mission Control for the flight. After the crew has been secured into the spacecraft, the mission is given the go ahead. During launch the middle engine on the Saturn V's S-II stage cuts off prematurely during its intended burn, which causes brief concern, but the astronauts make it into orbit without further problems. After performing the burn that will send the Apollo 13 CSM/LM to the moon, Swigert maneuvers the Apollo Command Module Odyssey to dock with the Lunar Module Aquarius.

Three days into the mission, the crew runs through an in-flight “housekeeping” checklist. Swigert is asked to stir the cryogenic oxygen tanks, leading to an explosion in the Service Module. The crew and Mission Control find that the oxygen tanks aboard Odyssey are leaking, prompting Mission Control to abort the moon landing, and the crew works to shut down Odyssey and power up Aquarius to act as a lifeboat so the crew can get home. On Earth, John Aaron, a flight controller specifically trained to deal with the electrical, environmental, and communication systems on the aircraft, recruits Mattingly to help prepare procedures to restart Odyssey once the crew is near Earth. Meanwhile, the Apollo 13 crew shuts down Odyssey, powers up Aquarius and orients the spacecraft so they pass around the far side of the moon, while a melancholy Lovell daydreams of his first steps on the lunar surface.

After regaining contact with the spacecraft, the team at Mission Control has to deal with more problems. To conserve power the crew must shut down Aquarius and remain in the freezing cold. Swigert suspects that Mission Control hasn't given the crew a re-entry plan because they have made a mistake that can't be fixed and they don't want the crew to find out. In a fit of rage, Haise blames Swigert's inexperience for the accident, after which a full-blown argument ensues, but is quickly quelled by Lovell. Houston radios in with another problem: they must deal with the carbon dioxide being created by the three men in the two-man Aquarius. An engineering team in Houston assembles a crude method of removing the poisonous gas, fashioning an adapter that allows the Command Module's supply of air cleaners to be used in Aquarius.

As the spacecraft approaches Earth, the crew makes a risky course correction by burning the Lunar Module's descent engine in order to avoid skipping off Earth's atmosphere. Despite Haise's fever and freezing conditions inside the cabin, the crew succeeds in righting their wayward spacecraft. With Earth approaching, Mattingly's team struggles to find a way to power up the Command Module with what little power is left on the spacecraft. Finally, power-up procedures are finalized and Mattingly instructs Swigert on reviving Odyssey.

After witnessing the damage suffered by the Service Module, the crew strap in for their descent into Earth's atmosphere. With one final good-bye to Aquarius, the lunar module that saved their lives is jettisoned. Odyssey re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, and after over four minutes of radio ionization blackout—three minutes is normal for re-entry—the crew reports that they are alive and well. Celebration rushes through Mission Control and in the homes of the astronauts' families. After splashing down, the crew is plucked out of the water and taken to the USS Iwo Jima for a hero's welcome. The film concludes with a monologue by Hanks (as Lovell) about the events that follow their return from space. Lovell shakes hands with the captain of Iwo Jima (the real Jim Lovell in a cameo) as the sequence ends with "I look up at the moon and wonder: 'When will we be going back, and who will that be?'"



Pre-production and props

While preparing for the shooting of the film, director Ron Howard decided that every shot of the film would be original and that none of the actual footage from the original mission, or any other mission would be used. The spacecraft interiors were constructed by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Centermarker's Space Works, who also restored the actual Apollo 13 Command Module. Two individual lunar modules and two command modules were constructed for filming. While each was a replica, composed of some of the original Apollo materials, they were built so that different sections were removable, which enabled filming to take place inside the diminutive interior space of the capsules. Space Works also built modified command and lunar modules for filming inside a Boeing KC-135 Reduced gravity aircraft. Additionally, Space Works made the pressure suits worn by the actors, which are exact reproductions of those worn by the Apollo astronauts, right down to the details of being airtight. When the actors put the suits on with their helmets locked in place, oxygen was pumped into the suits to cool them down and allow them to breathe, in the exact manner of real astronauts.

The real Mission Control room is located on the third floor of a building in Houston, Texasmarker. NASAmarker offered the use of the actual control room for filming but Howard declined, opting instead to make his own replica from scratch. Production designer Michael Corenblith and set decorator Merideth Boswell were in charge of the construction of the Mission Control set at Universal Studios. Built to within six inches of the specifications of the real Mission Control in Houston, the set was equipped with giant rear-screen projection capabilities and a complex set of computers with individual video feeds to all the flight controller stations. In addition, the actors playing the flight controllers were able to communicate with each other on a private audio loop to better simulate reality. The Mission Control room built for the movie was on a ground floor. One NASA employee who was a consultant for the film said that the set was so realistic that he would leave at the end of the day and look for the elevator before remembering he was not actually in Mission Control. By the time the film was made, the USS Iwo Jima had been scrapped, so her sister ship, the USS New Orleans, was used as the recovery ship instead.

Cast training and filming

"For actors, being able to actually shoot in zero gravity as opposed to being in incredibly painful and uncomfortable harnesses for special effects shots was all the difference between what would have been a horrible moviemaking experience as opposed to the completely glorious one that it actually was.”
— Actor Tom Hanks

To prepare for their roles in the film, Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon all attended the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabamamarker. While there, astronauts Jim Lovell and David Scott, commander of Apollo 15, did actual training exercises with the actors inside a simulated Command Module and Lunar Module. The actors were also taught about each of the 500 buttons, toggles, and switches used to operate the spacecraft. The actors then traveled to Johnson Space Centermarker in Houston where they flew in NASA's KC-135 Reduced gravity aircraft to simulate weightlessness in outer-space. While in the KC-135, filming took place in bursts of 25 seconds, the length of each weightless period that the plane performed. The filmmakers would eventually fly 612 parabolas which added up to a total of 3 hours and 54 minutes of weightlessness. Parts of the command module, lunar module and the tunnel piece that connected them were built by production designer Michael Corenblith, art directors David J. Bomba and Bruce Alan Miller and their crew to actually fit inside the KC-135 airplane. Filming in such an environment, while never done before for a movie, was a tremendous time saver. In the KC-135, the actors moved wherever they wanted, surrounded by floating props; the camera and cameraman were weightless so filming could take place on any axis from which a shot could be set up. In Los Angelesmarker, all the actors, including Ed Harris and the others who comprise Mission Control, enrolled in a Flight Controller School led by Gerry Griffin, an Apollo 13 flight director, and flight controller Jerry Bostick. The actors studied actual audiotapes from the mission, reviewed hundreds of pages of NASA transcripts and attended a crash course in physics.

Ron Howard stated that, after the first test preview of the film, one of the comment cards indicated "total disdain"; the audience member had written that it was a "typical Hollywood" ending and that the crew never would have survived.


Apollo 13: Music From The Motion Picture is the soundtrack to the film. It was composed by James Horner and was released by MCA Records on June 27, 1995. Horner was nominated for Best Original Score at the 68th Academy Awards.


Box-office performance

The film was a box-office success, gaining $355,237,933 worldwide, which easily covered its production budget. The film's widest release was 2,347 theaters.The film's opening weekend and the latter two weeks placed it at #1 with a domestic gross of $25,353,380, which made up 14.7% of the total domestic gross.

Apollo 13box office revenue
Source Gross (USD) % Total All Time Rank (Unadjusted)
Domestic $173,837,933 48.9% 126
Foreign $181,400,000 51.1% N/A
Worldwide $355,237,933 100.0% 140

Critical reception

Apollo 13 garnered critical acclaim and at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 42 reviews collected, the film has an overall approval rating of 95%, with a weighted average score of 8/10. Among Rotten Tomatoes's Cream of the Crop, which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs, the film holds an overall approval rating of 88 percent. By comparison, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized 0–100 rating to reviews from mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 85 from the seven reviews it collected.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the film in his review saying, "A powerful story, one of the year's best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics." Kenneth Turan of Los Angeles Times gave a somewhat positive review of the film saying, "Ron Howard, is certainly well-suited to the kind of sentimental, middle-of-the-road filmmaking of which "Apollo 13" is the epitome. And because the material to a certain extent cries out for this kind of worshipful treatment, the picture stands as Howard's most impressive to date. As noted, genuine courage was involved, and Howard is effective at putting the tension and bravery of that mission on screen." Richard Corliss from Time Magazine highly praised the film saying, "From lift-off to splashdown, Apollo 13 gives one hell of a ride." Edward Guthmann of San Francisco Chronicle gave a somewhat negative review and wrote, "I just wish that Apollo 13 worked better as a movie, and that Howard's threshold for corn, mush and twinkly sentiment weren't so darn wide." Peter Travers from Rolling Stone Magazine praised the film and wrote, "Howard lays off the manipulation to tell the true story of the near-fatal 1970 Apollo 13 mission in painstaking and lively detail. It's easily Howard's best film." James Berardinelli from Reelviews highly praised the film saying, "While the events of this motion picture may depict NASA's finest hour, the release of Apollo 13 represents Ron Howard's."

Awards and nominations

1996 Academy Awards (Oscars)

1996 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (Saturn Awards)

1996 Canadian Cinema Editors (Eddies)

  • Nominated - Best Edited Feature Film — Mike Hill, Daniel Hanley

1996 American Society of Cinematographers

  • Nominated - Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases — Dean Cundey

1996 BAFTA Film Awards

  • Won - Best Production Design — Michael Corenblith
  • Won - Outstanding Achievement in Special Visual Effects — Robert Legato, Michael Kanfer, Matt Sweeney, Leslie Ekker
  • Nominated - Best Cinematography — Dean Cundey
  • Nominated - Best Editing — Mike Hill, Daniel Hanley
  • Nominated - Best Sound — David MacMillan, Rick Dior, Scott Millan, Steve Pederson

1996 Casting Society of America (Artios)

  • Nominated - Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama — Jane Jenkins, Janet Hirshenson

1996 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Won - Best Picture

1996 Directors Guild of Americamarker

  • Won - Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures — Ron Howard, Carl Clifford, Aldric La'Auli Porter, Jane Paul

1996 Golden Globe Awards

1996 Heartland Film Festival

  • Won - Studio Crystal Heart Award — Jeffrey Kluger

1996 Hugo Awards

1996 MTV Movie Awards

  • Nominated - Best Male Performance — Tom Hanks
  • Nominated - Best Movie

1996 PGA Golden Laurel Awards

  • Won - Motion Picture Producer of the Year Award — Brian Grazer, Todd Hallowell

1996 Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Won - Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role — Ed Harris
  • Won - Outstanding Performance by a Cast

1996 Writers Guild of America Awards

  • Nominated - Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium — William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert

1996 Young Artist Awards

  • Nominated - Best Family Feature - Drama

1996 Space Foundation's Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award

  • Won

2005 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes

  • "Houston, we have a problem." 50th place

2006 AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers

  • 12th place

Technical accuracy

The film is notable for its technical accuracy; principals reported that the film is reasonably faithful to the facts of the mission but adds some tension between the astronauts for dramatic effect.

The dialogue between ground control and the astronauts was taken verbatim from actual transcripts and recordings, with the notable exception of one of the taglines of the film, "Houston, we have a problem." (This quote was voted #50 on the list "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes".) The actual words uttered by Jack Swigert were "I believe we've had a problem here." Ground control responded by saying "This is Houston, say again please" Jim Lovell then repeated "Houston, we've had a problem." (see day 02 hr 07 min 55 sec 20) The script changed the quote deliberately, as Lovell's actual words suggested something happening in the past rather than the present. A dramatic event in the film occurs when Mrs. Lovell drops her wedding ring down a shower drain. According to Lovell, this actually did occur (The Lovells refer to the incident in an interview on the DVD version of the film ).

Jim Lovell fantasizes about his lost moon landing

A DVD commentary track, recorded by Mr. and Mrs. Lovell and included with both the original and 10th anniversary editions, mentions several inaccuracies included in the film, all done for reasons of artistic license:

  • In the film, Mattingly plays a key role in solving a power consumption problem that Apollo 13 was faced with as it approached re-entry. Lovell points out repeatedly in his commentary that in this case Mattingly was a composite of several astronauts and engineers—including Charles Duke (whose rubella led to Mattingly's grounding)—all of whom played a role in solving that problem. Also, Ken Mattingly did not watch the launch at Cape Canaveral as depicted in the film, but from the command center in Houston.
  • When Jack Swigert is getting ready to dock with the LEM, a concerned NASA technician says, "If Swigert can't dock this thing, we don't have a mission." Lovell and Haise also seem worried. On the Anniversary Edition DVD, the real Jim Lovell says that if Swigert had been unable to dock with the LEM, he or Haise could have done it. He also says that Swigert was a well-trained Command Module pilot and that no one was really worried about whether he was up to the job, but he admitted that it made a nice sub-plot for the film.
  • A scene set the night before the launch, showing the astronauts' family members saying their goodbyes while separated by a road, a distance introduced to reduce the possibility of any last-minute transmission of disease, depicted a tradition not begun until the Space Shuttle program.
  • The final manual burn of the LEM's engine, done to put Apollo 13 back on course, lasted 14 seconds, not 39.
  • There was music playing in the cabin at the time of the accident, and it was reputed to have been Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra (a piece also played in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey).
  • The Saturn V markings on the movie rocket were different from the actual Saturn vehicle for the mission, particularly on the S-IVB (third) stage, which appears as vertically striped, rather than a single solid band.
  • In the film, Ken Mattingly was on the backup crew for Apollo 11 as CMP with Jim Lovell as CMD and Fred Haise as LMP. Some have noted that, in reality, William A. Anders was the backup CMP and that Mattingly was on the Support Crew as the CAPCOM flight engineer. In fact, Apollo 11 effectively had two backup CMPs. Mattingly trained alongside Anders once the latter announced his retirement from the astronaut program and acceptance of a position with the National Space Council, effective in August 1969; had the mission been delayed, Anders would no longer have been available.

Discrepancies between the book and the movie:
  • In the movie, when it comes time for the PC+2 burn, Lovell comes up with the idea of using the Earth as the reference point. According to the book, the ground crew, before Apollo 13 went behind the moon, told the astronauts to use the northeast quadrant of the sun as their reference point. The astronauts did this before going behind the moon, so when the time came for the burn the ship was already pointed in the right direction.
  • After the crew successfully installs its makeshift CO2 filter, the CapCom turns to the engineer that oversaw the creation of the filter and says, "You, sir, are a steely-eyed missile man." According to the book, John Aaron (portrayed by Loren Dean), the engineer who was crucial in solving the dilemma of powering the CM, was the one nicknamed "steely-eyed missile man" by people at NASA.


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