It is perhaps one of the most well-known, oft-repeated stories in the history of human spaceflight. In April 1970, an oxygen tank explosion in Apollo 13’s service module led to a chain of events that would endanger the lives of the crew, commander Jim Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise, and command module pilot John L. “Jack” Swigert. In addition, Lovell and Haise would have to scrap their plans of exploring the Fra Mauro highlands region of the Moon. The mission’s drama started before its Saturn V even left Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, as Swigert had been rotated to the prime crew just days before launch; Thomas K. Mattingly, the original command module pilot, had been exposed to German measles. Apollo 13 made the words “Houston, we have a problem” part of the nation’s cultural lexicon, although in real life it was Swigert who calmly said, “Okay, Houston, I believe we’ve had a problem here.”
The story of this fateful mission—and its ultimate triumph over seemingly insurmountable setbacks—has been immortalized in a number of books, documentaries, and most notably Ron Howard’s blockbuster 1995 film Apollo 13, based on Lovell’s book “Lost Moon” and starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon. On the evening of Saturday, April 11, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) will celebrate the people responsible for making this mission a “successful failure” during its 45th anniversary.
ASF’s Apollo 13 45th Anniversary Celebration event will not only showcase Apollo 13’s surviving crew members, Lovell and Haise, but will also spotlight the contributions of the support crew and flight directors, who, along with thousands of other workers on the ground, were responsible for bringing the crew home alive and safe.
After ticket holders dine under the Saturn V launch vehicle at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo/Saturn V Center (ASVC), they will be treated to a photo opportunity with astronauts Lovell and Haise. A champagne social at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, the official host hotel for the event, will precede the evening’s dinner.
Following dinner, guests will partake in viewing a panel discussion featuring Lovell, Haise, backup lunar module pilot Charlie Duke (Apollo 16 moonwalker), support crew members Vance Brand (Apollo-Soyuz, STS-5, STS-41B, and STS-35), Dr. Joe Kerwin (Skylab 2), Jack Lousma (Skylab 3, STS-3), and flight directors Gerry Griffin, Gene Kranz, and Glynn Lunney. These panelists will reflect on the people, events, and lessons learned surrounding Apollo 13. Command module pilot Swigert, immortalized in Howard’s movie as a fun-loving bachelor and dedicated troubleshooter, died in December 1982 following a bout with cancer, and will undoubtedly be remembered by his crew mates.
The flight directors who are scheduled to be present at the event also received honors due to their heroic efforts in saving the crew following the explosion. In a history article previously published on AmericaSpace, Ben Evans wrote: “In the days that followed [splashdown, which occurred on April 17], the [crew] would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian [honor], and, perhaps equally fittingly, the heroes of the Mission Operations Team – represented by Apollo 13’s four flight directors, Gene Kranz, Glynn Lunney, Milt Windler and Gerry Griffin – were similarly acknowledged. ‘Three brave astronauts,’ intoned President Richard Nixon, as he gave the awards, ‘are alive and on Earth because of their dedication and because, at the critical moments, the people of that team were wise enough and self-possessed enough to make the right decisions. Their extraordinary feat is a tribute to man’s ingenuity, to his resourcefulness and to his courage.’”
Guests will also receive a photo CD commemorating the event, and a DVD of the panel discussion (these items will be sent to guests following the event). Tickets are limited to 100, priced at $1,000, and are on a first come, first serve basis. At the time of writing this, there are only 28 tickets left. Proceeds from this event will benefit the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which was established by the surviving Mercury 7 astronauts in 1984 to support college students entering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Cost of the ticket packages are considered a charitable donation. To make a purchase, one can visit ASF’s website. For more information, please contact ASF at 321-449-4872 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASF has also announced that its annual U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Gala will take place Friday, May 29. In addition to anniversary events and Hall of Fame inductions, ASF also holds the Astronaut Autograph & Memorabilia show during early November. More updates will be given about these and other events as soon as they are available.