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Story Notes for Apollo 13

Weeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies. Below is the online version of the Story Notes for Apollo 13.

Award Notes
Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Kathleen Quinlan earned an Oscar nomination for Apollo 13.

Ed Harris earned an Oscar nod for his performance as Gene Kranz.

Apollo 13 is one of many Ron Howard movies scored by composer James Horner. Horner got two Oscar nods that year: Apollo 13 and Braveheart.

Biographical Notes
Lovell didn’t really find out he was on Apollo 13 on Halloween. It was actually August.

Bill Paxton (Fred Haise) got his big break acting in outer space in Aliens (1986).

Ed Harris also worked with director Ron Howard on A Beautiful Mind (2001).

Though he was only in his 20s, John Aaron was a trusted member of Mission Control. He also helped Apollo 12 get out of trouble when they were struck by lightning during takeoff.

Casting Notes
Tom Hanks was arguably the biggest movie star on the planet in 1995. He was coming off back-to-back Oscar wins for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994).

Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell) made her movie debut with Ron Howard in American Graffiti (1973).

In 1994, Gary Sinise (Ken Mattingly) earned an Oscar nod for playing Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump.

Joe Spano plays the NASA Director. One of his first roles was acting with Ron Howard in American Graffiti.

Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert) had just earned a Golden Globe nod for The River Wild (1994).

Tracy Reiner plays Mary Haise. She plays Betty “Spaghetti” in A League of Their Own (1992).

Xander Berkeley plays Henry Hurt. A year later, he played Buzz Aldrin in Apollo 11 (1996).

Clint Howard plays Sy Liebergot. He’s director Ron Howard’s brother.

Loren Dean plays John Aaron. Five years later, he played an astronaut in Space Cowboys (2000).

Jim Ritz became friends with director Ron Howard when he was a writer on Happy Days.

Ron Howard’s mother, Jean, plays Blanch Lovell. He actually made her audition three times for the part.

The priest is Ron Howard’s father, Rance. He’s appeared in over 100 movies.

The Captain of the USS Iwo Jima is played by the real Jim Lovell.

Finance Notes
Jim Lovell’s original calculations recently sold at auction for over $388,000.

Apollo 13 was the third biggest movie worldwide in 1995. It earned over $353 million.

Health Notes
Fred didn’t have “the clap,” but he did have a urinary tract infection.

If the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air rises above 10 percent, you lose consciousness.

Historical Notes
The Apollo 1 tragedy happened January 27, 1967, three years before Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 really did launch at 1:13 PM CST. That’s 13:13 military time.

Family farewell ceremonies were only done years later for the Space Shuttle astronauts. During the Apollo missions, the astronauts were actually allowed to be in contact with their families.

Ken Mattingly was actually sitting in Mission Control in Houston when Apollo 13 launched.

Frank Borman was the commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to circle the moon.

Jack Swigert was known as a ladies man. One paper headline read, “Bachelor Notices Gal-Axy.”

Swigert really did get a 60-day extension on his taxes.

Music Notes
“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, 1969.

“Honky Tonkin'” by Hank Williams, 1948.

Plot Note
There’s a reason Fred only calculated for two people. Swigert would never have left the command module. His job was to circle the moon and pick up Lovell and Haise after the moon walk.

Pop-Culture Notes
TIME magazine ranks “Houston, we have a problem” as one of the top 10 movie catchphrases of all-time. It’s the only catchphrase on the list that’s a direct quote from a real person.

Mattingly is watching The Dick Cavett Show which aired opposite The Tonight Show.

AFI ranked Apollo 13 as one of the “100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time.”

Press Notes
Roger Ebert ranked Apollo 13 as one of the “Best Movies of 1995.”

TIME magazine: “From lift-off to splashdown, Apollo 13 gives one hell of a ride.”

Quotation Notes
Astronaut Jim Lovell: “When I was on Apollo 8, I named a little triangular mountain Mount Marilyn.” Mount Marilyn is not in the scientific registry, but it’s recognized by all the NASA astronauts.

Marilyn Lovell didn’t like that the flight number was 13.

Marilyn Lovell: “All along I had planned on not going to the launch…I was finding every excuse possible.”

Marilyn Lovell: “I decided I couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing [Jim] again before the launch.”

Jim Lovell: “In actuality, Jack Swigert wrote all the malfunction procedures for the command module…He was, in truth, a very competent pilot.”

Marilyn Lovell really did lose her ring in the shower. It had never happened before. Marilyn Lovell: “To me, it felt like the worst omen of all.”

Kevin Bacon: “When I first put [the suit] on, it was the only real bout of claustrophobia I had.”

Director Ron Howard says he’s most proud of this launch sequence: “I think as a filmmaker, that might be the most cinematic thing I’ve ever done.”

Gerald Griffin, Apollo 13 Flight Director: “They got [the Mission Control set] so accurate that it’s a little bit eerie.”

Jim Lovell had a hard time controlling the spacecraft, because “when the explosion occurred it knocked out a couple of the thrusters.”

Jim Lovell said he was really worried about his calculations: “Do I really know 2 and 2 is 4?”

Marilyn Lovell: “Jules Bergman [of ABC News], to me, was the voice of doom that night.”

Jim Lovell: “Everything that I ever knew was behind my thumb when I covered the Earth.”

Flight Director Gene Kranz says his job was “where the buck stopped.”

Marilyn Lovell says she always tried to hide her fears, so she didn’t worry her kids. “I had to gather up a little nerve before I talked to them and tried to explain what was happening.”

Marilyn Lovell: “These were the four longest days of my life. I didn’t know if I was a widow or a wife.”

Jim Lovell: “The only reason I was here was to land on the moon.”

Jim Lovell: “It got down to about 34 degrees Fahrenheit by the time we got home.”

Jim Lovell: “On a $20-billion program, without tape, plastic, and cardboard, you’re lost.”

Ron Howard: “I love the idea of everything in the spacecraft just kind of winding down.”

After Tom Hanks was cast, Gary Sinise was free to choose his part. Sinise: “When I looked at it, I said, ‘I want to play that guy.’ Without him, they won’t get back.”

Director Ron Howard calls the next sweeping shot of Mission Control “God’s point of view.” Howard says, “It’s sort of that fickle finger of fate.”

Ron Howard: “We got very lucky with the condensation on the windows. We had never planned on it.”

Bill Paxton asked Fred Haise how he felt about saying goodbye to the lunar module. Paxton: “He said he felt kind of sad about the LEM. The little LEM that could.”

Kevin Bacon: “I think all of us felt like we were really honored to be part of making this movie.”

Tom Hanks: “How many times in humankind has the world stood still in order to see something go on? This is one of them.”

Marilyn Lovell: “I never prayed so hard in my life.”

Random Notes
The launch date was 4-11-70. 4+1+1+7 = 13.

The command module’s energy had to be conserved. Otherwise, there was no chance of reentry.

Script Notes
Actor Gary Busey was visiting the set one day and gave Paxton the rhinoceros line.

Filmmakers took some lines directly from the mission transcripts.

Set Notes
Set designers looked through the Lovells’ old family photographs to recreate their home from 1969.

The Saturn V rocket in the movies isn’t real. It’s a much smaller model that was added digitally with special effects.

The helmets were really being locked and oxygen was pumping into those 180-pound airtight spacesuits.

When Tom Hanks joined the cast, Jim Lovell sent him a telegram that read, “Welcome aboard Apollo 13.”

The Mission Control set was nearly a carbon copy of the original one in Houston.

Apollo 13 was the only movie to ever use NASA’s zero gravity airplane, the KC-135. It simulates weightlessness by climbing to 38,000 feet, then diving about 15,000 feet.

The “vomit” is mostly condensed soup. Fred Haise did experience some space sickness on the mission but denied ever throwing up.

Filming inside the zero gravity plane could only happen in 25 second bursts. The plane performed 612 dives, giving filmmakers 54 minutes of footage in a weightless environment.

Many of the actors in Mission Control were being fed lines directly from technical advisers on set.

For some of the scenes inside the spacecraft, the actors would sit on seesaw devices that created the illusion of zero gravity.

Ron Howard had Walter Cronkite record new audio reports to add to Apollo 13

Source Notes
Guenter Wendt was NASA’s engineer. He was the last man the astronauts saw before launch.

Flight Director Gene Kranz was very superstitious about his vests. His wife made one for every mission.

Lovell’s daughter Barbara says her mom never said how scared she was, but you could see it in her eyes.

The emergency over the Sea of Japan really happened to Jim Lovell in the 1950s.

Marilyn Lovell really did sequester Jim’s mother in another room with the famous Apollo astronauts.

There really was a storm near the splashdown site. It was Typhoon Helen.

Trivia Notes
Apollo 13 was the first movie where Tom Hanks played a character based on a real person.

Apollo astronauts would spend thousands of hours in simulators to prepare for missions.

Tom Hanks is wearing Jim Lovell’s Naval Academy ring. Hanks visited Lovell’s home in Texas to do research for the movie.

At 4Gs, most people start to lose color vision.

Just before launch, the astronauts are perched on top of 5.5 million pounds of explosives.

As soon as the rocket clears the launch pad, Mission Control in Houston takes the reins.

S-IVB is the third and final stage of the launch system. It puts the astronauts on course to the moon.

“Constellation Urion” was coined by astronaut Wally Schirra on Gemini 7.

Veterans of NASA’s zero gravity plane call it the “Vomit Comet.” The cast took stomach sickness pills in order to avoid “losing their lunches” while filming.

When the explosion happened, Jim Lovell’s heart rate jumped to 130 beats per minute.

Fuel cells produce electricity using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Ordinarily, the astronauts could use the stars to navigate through space.

VOX is short for voice operated switching. The crew never wanted to be heard in crisis.

At one point, there were over 5,000 people from NASA and private industry working to save Apollo 13.

The longest anyone has ever gone without sleep is 11 days.

Xander Berkley (Henry Hurt) plays a NASA Public Affairs Officer. The Public Affairs Officer works as the voice of NASA during launches.

The role of Fred Haise was originally offered to John Cusack, who passed on it.

Lovell says they never had time to panic. There was too much work to do.

The replacement filter was so effective, it was added to future flights as a safety feature.

Ken Mattingly and Gary Sinise were both born on March 17th.

The hot dogs really did freeze aboard Apollo 13.

This final burn on Apollo 13 actually lasted just 14 seconds, not 39.

Apollo 13 had three parachutes, but could still safely land with just two.

Without gravity, the astronauts’ body heat hovers around them forming an invisible blanket. The body heat would go away as soon as the air was churned.

After the explosion, the crew had a staggered sleep schedule so they would never cease communication.

Four amps would be just enough power to run a hair dryer.

The spacecraft was supposed to be waterproof, but there were no guarantees on Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 could actually use up 43 amps, not just 20.

If the Apollo 13 explosion had happened within the Earth’s atmosphere, no one would have survived.

The command module has to hit a two degree target on reentry. Anything outside would be disastrous.

To this day, no one knows why the reentry blackout lasted so long.

NASA never numbered another spacecraft “13.”

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