The Astronauts of Apollo 13


What if you were thrown into a life-or-death situation hundreds of thousands of miles from home, while hurtling through space, with limiting stores of food, water and oxygen?

Would you freeze or answer the call for courage, like the astronauts of Apollo 13?

The Apollo 13 flight of 1970 is one of NASA's most famous and awe-inspiring missions – even though it failed to achieve its goals. The seventh flight in the Apollo space program, Apollo 13 was intended to land on the moon. Just two days after launch, however, the crew was forced to abort their lunar landing mission when one of the ship's oxygen tanks exploded. The astronauts aboard – Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert Jr., and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise – may as well have been presumed dead.

But the astronauts’ ingenious problem solving skills saved the day.

Commander Lovell, age 42, was one of the world's most talented and beloved astronauts. He had more space experience than anyone on Earth, clocking over 572 spaceflight hours on three separate missions. On the Apollo 13 flight, he was responsible for leading the crew. After disaster struck, he adjusted the ship's course twice – manually – controlling the engines and lunar module, using only his wristwatch for timing.

For his technical abilities and his bravery, Lovell has since been awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Command Module Pilot Swigert wasn’t even supposed to be on the Apollo 13 mission! He stepped in less than 48 hours before takeoff when Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly II fell sick with German measles. Swigert’s impressive flying abilities and spaceflight savvy proved crucial on the troubled mission, where he uttered the famous and oft-misquoted phrase: "Houston, we've had a problem here."

For his cool work on helping to right the famed Apollo flight, Swigert was also rewarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal. 

Lucky for the Apollo 13 crew, Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise had served as backup pilot on Apollo 8 and 11. This experience came in very handy as he helped to pilot the errant vessel's return to Earth, despite suffering tremendous pain from both urinary tract and kidney infections he’d contracted while in flight.

For his efforts, Haise was similarly rewarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, alongside other prestigious awards.

The men of the Apollo 13 flight will forever be remembered as heroes for their quick thinking and bravery in outer space. Their flight has been memorialized in many movies and articles, but is perhaps best honored in the hearts of a new generation of aspiring explorers.

The men aboard the Apollo 13 flight inspired millions by staring death in the face and refusing to blink. That's why each of them is a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.

Who's your #HistoryHero?

Tell us in the comments below, or message us the name of your #HistoryHero here. We’ll let you know when we feature him or her on the #HistoryHero BLAST.