Apollo 13: Lost From the Moon by Brianna Baker

Oregon Gardens Pond Lily by Sarah Abraham


Apollo 13: Lost From the Moon by Brianna Baker

At a young age, like so many others, I had dreams of space exploration and of becoming an astronaut. These aspirations, however short-lived, did not come from hearing stories on the news or visiting the planetarium, rather from one of my favorite movies: Apollo 13. I was very inspired by the adventure of being in space on a voyage to the moon, but even more so by the incredible, committed efforts of everyone involved in that mission to bring three men home. The film is a historical drama based off of the book Lost Moon, written by Jim Lovell about the Apollo 13 flight of 1970. Filmed in 1995, it is directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, commander of the Apollo 13 mission, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon as his crewmates, and Ed Harris in an Oscar nominated role of NASA flight director Gene Krantz.

The film opens to preparations for the Apollo 11 moon landing broadcast. As Jim and Marilyn Lovell entertain a houseful of guests, the originally Apollo 14 crewmembers are present: Ken Mattingly (played by Gary Sinise) and Fred Haise (played by Bill Paxton) along with their backup crew. The house is silent as Neil Armstrong walks on the moon, and you can sense how strongly the present members of NASA long to be there in person. Sometime afterward, the crew for Apollo 14 gets bumped forward to the Apollo 13 mission, and Ken Mattingly is cut from the crew. Both circumstances are due to illness. Mattingly’s replacement, Jack Swigert (played by Kevin Bacon), trained to do the former’s job, is  efficient but the rest of the team struggles to accept the change. The day of the launch, April 11 1970, comes, and both the crew and flight control prepare for launch. Lift-off goes smoothly, but three days later, an explosion occurs after Swigert goes through some very simple “house-keeping” procedures as directed by flight control. They begin to lose power, among other complications, and it soon becomes apparent that landing on the moon is no longer an option. Getting the astronauts home alive becomes the mission, and the disappointment of losing the opportunity is obvious, most particularly in Lovell who, at the time, was one of NASA’s most experienced astronauts. The rest of the film takes flight control and the crew through their series of life threatening problems; all the while asking themselves, can we do it?

Although the tension among the astronauts is acute, mission control feels the pressure as well. In a room outside the main mission control, Gene Krantz discusses the options with a roomful of engineers. They look at the possibilities, arguing the options and weighing the consequences, none of which looking good. The makers of one of the vital pieces of the ship, called the LEM, comments that their craft may not have the capacity to serve the purposes which the mission now requires. Gene Krantz, NASA’s current flight director responds, “I don’t care what anything was designed to do, I care about what it can do.” After they get to work and manage to solve some pressing issues, several more surface. They meet again and discover that the circumstances are worse than they initially believed. The most pressing matters are addressed but it still leaves a sizable gap in what they have yet to do. Krantz again responds to engineers’ comments about the difficulties of what they are facing: “We’ve never lost an American in space; we sure as hell aren’t going to lose one my watch. Failure is not an option.” The tension continues to escalate, but the crew and grounded mission control remain undeterred in their ultimate goal.

As a historical drama, the film’s intensity is rarely absent, but never suffocating, thanks to the occasional sarcastic quip. As they approach earth, the strain on the astronauts is taking its toll. Lovell rather adamantly reminds his crewmembers after a spat that their problems will not go away by arguing about them. He then responds to a call from mission control as though nothing is amiss. The change in his tone is sudden and almost humorous. Tom Hanks and Ed Harris rule the screen as always, and the influence of Ron Howard’s direction isn’t surprising as it consistently holds your attention, no matter how many times you may have seen it before. In an interview with Gene Krantz five years after the film was released, he commented on Ed Harris’ portrayal of himself: “If I were still working in mission control today, I would have offered Ed Harris a job as flight director.” If the acting or directing don’t pull you in, the sound and editing are sure to do the trick. Along with the score, as unforgettable as only James Horner can compose, the sounds, from “bangs and shimmies” to radio static, seem as real as the story itself. Krantz said of the film’s accuracy: “the stuff they had in there was right, and it was right on track.”

Needless to say, the film leaves an impression. It can’t come as a surprise that it won two Oscars, being nominated for seven others, including best picture. As newsreels from the actual days of that mission are shown, you see countries and religions uniting in prayer to show support to the endangered men. Apollo 13’s dramatic retelling of that unforgettable mission in 1970 shows that, despite losing the dreams of landing on the moon, perhaps an even greater “leap for mankind” can be found as we work together to solve our problems, and save what really matters.