On April 13, 1970, the Apollo 13's lunar landing was aborted in what would become a historic mission.

By Alison Fox
April 13, 2020
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The crewmembers of the Apollo 13 mission step aboard the USS Iwo Jima, the 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 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 on April 17, 1970.
NASA

"Houston, we've had a problem."

Fifty years after that famed phrase aboard the Apollo 13 was spoken, legends and institutions of space exploration are taking to a different form of communication to commemorate the historic mission — Twitter.

“They were coasting peacefully to the Moon when a ruptured oxygen tank derailed the mission. But cool heads prevailed,” NASA tweeted on Monday.

While no in-person activities were planned to celebrate the anniversary due to COVID-19, NASA created a project where people could follow the mission in real time online as well as posted photo archives.

Apollo 13 launched on April 11,1970, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida with a crew of three: Commander James (Jim) Lovell Jr., Command Module Pilot John Swigert Jr. and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise Jr. Two days later, the tank in the service module ruptured and the lunar landing was aborted.

While it never landed on the moon, Apollo 13 became ingrained on the minds of those involved, Americans who watched with bated breath from home, and generations to come. Now, it is 50 years to the day since that oxygen tank exploded in what NASA would eventually dub a “successful failure.”

The National Air and Space Museum tweeted out that famous line, while the Kennedy Space Center — which in 1970 was known as Cape Canaveral — tweeted a gif of the launch, and noted that the crew arrived safely home on April 17, 1970.

In an October interview with USA Today, Lovell, 92, reflected on the historic mission.

“I'm very proud of 13 even though I didn't land on the moon. That was a disappointment for me, but then a lot of people landed on the moon," mission commander James Lovell, 92, said. "And if 13 was a very successful flight, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today."

And he even recalled the most harrowing moment.

"I heard just a big sharp bang, and the spacecraft rocked back and forth," Lovell remembered. "Then as I got into the command module, I looked at Jack Swigert, and his eyes were wide as saucers."

What followed was four days of intense planning and problem solving — a made-for-Hollywood tale that eventually ended up as an award-winning movie starring Tom Hanks — before the spaceship finally splashed down in the Pacific Ocean nearly four days later.

The entire mission lasted five days, 22 hours and 54 minutes, according to NASA.

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who landed on the moon with Apollo 11 in 1969, tweeted the menu for the Apollo 13 crew, which included six chocolate bars, 24 servings of coffee, and “the first-ever dehydrated orange juice to fly in space.”

“Looks delicious!” he joked on Twitter.

Fellow former astronaut Captain Mark Kelly added: “On the 50th anniversary of the #Apollo13 launch, let’s remember that Americans are good at solving tough problems. Even though some things don’t go as planned, if we work together, we can overcome any obstacle.”

The anniversary also comes as Americans prepare to launch into space aboard an American rocket and spacecraft from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.

“Our goal 50 years ago was to save our valiant crew after sending them around the Moon and return them safely to Earth,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Our goal now is to return to the Moon to stay, in a sustainable way. We are working hard to ensure that we don’t need to respond to this kind of emergency in Artemis, but to be ready to respond to any problems we don’t anticipate.”