"Houston, we have a problem."
One of the all-time great lines from any movie, let alone Tom Hanks' estimable body of work, and one that swiftly transcended the film it came from to become a catch-all phrase applied to any issue, however major or minor.
But the problem that drives the action in Apollo 13 was a real life-or-death turn of events for the three astronauts aboard the 1970 lunar mission of the same name, and the inherent suspense in how their myriad seemingly impossible problems got solved is what made the Ron Howard-directed movie so good when it came out in June 1995—and still so watchable (and somehow still suspenseful) more than years later.
Even if you already knew what happened before you ever saw it.
The Apollo 13 crew—commander and pilot Jim Lovell Jr., command module pilot John Swigert Jr., and lunar module pilot Fred Haise Jr.—were approximately 100,000 miles away from Earth when wiring in the oxygen-stirring fan short-circuited and ignited the Teflon insulation, causing an explosion—and resulting in quadruple failure as they could literally see their oxygen floating into the ether.
Not that anyone in space or on the ground knew what had caused the explosion at the time. Rather, what they knew was that the crew's chances of survival all of a sudden seemed slim.
But a lot of sweat and lost lunches goes into making a realistic-looking film about astronauts in mortal peril, so from our own personal mission control we've compiled the most compelling facts about the making of Apollo 13.
"It's a movie that hopefully makes you understand what it was like to be there, what it was like to be in the capsule," Howard said when the film came out. "What it was like to be at home waiting for people that you loved to get back. What it was like to be in mission control with no sleep, and trying to make crucial calculations to send up to these three men who were relying on that information."
Thanks to this film, you can guess.
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 7 a.m. PT.