Apollo 13

Apollo 13 (1995)

9 questions

New this month Question: Why did the Apollo 13 spacecraft need a parachute? They were landing on water not solid ground. It's easier to survive a fall when landing on water, so why would they need a parachute if they were landing on water?

New this month Chosen answer: Spacecraft re-enter Earth's atmosphere at extremely high velocity (thousands of miles per hour). Atmospheric friction slows the spacecraft descent somewhat; but, without parachutes, the Apollo spacecraft would still reach the surface traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. Landing in water at such high speed would be like hitting concrete, which would of course be instantly fatal. Hence the necessity of multiple parachutes. The Apollo program (and all early U.S. manned space programs) chose to land in the ocean for two reasons: 1) It was easier to track spacecraft re-entry from horizon-to-horizon at sea without visual and radar obstacles, and; 2) It was faster and easier to position several Navy vessels in the general splashdown location, then deploy helicopters to rapidly retrieve the astronauts and their spacecraft.

Charles Austin Miller

Question: When Aquarius is descending during re-entry, why is the Navy preparing Search & Rescue instead of the Coast Guard?

Cubs Fan

Chosen answer: Aquarius was most likely going to splashdown in international waters; since the U.S. Coast Guard only has jurisdiction within American waters, the Navy would have to rescue them.


Question: In the ending credits, you see "The Whiz Kid" and "The Whiz Kid's mom". Who are they and where do they appear in the movie? I have looked, but I have never seen Austin O'Brien anywhere in the movie even though he is listed in the credits as "The Whiz Kid", same with the Whiz Kid's mom. Is this a mistake or do they appear in some background?

Chosen answer: Austin O'Brien has stated in an interview that although he filmed a scene it was dropped from the movie.


Question: I've always wondered about one scene in the movie. It happens when Tom Hanks says, "prepare for a little jolt, fellas." We see the astronauts being propelled forward in their seats as the spacecraft accelerates very quickly. But the only time you'd be going forward was if you were riding in a car and the brakes were suddenly slammed on, right? Can someone explain this to me?

Chosen answer: You have to think three-dimensionally. The rocket is travelling upwards under the thrust of the first stage - the moment that thrust cuts off, the only force acting on the ship is gravity, so it's effectively as if the brakes have been slammed on, relatively speaking, as they are no longer moving forwards anywhere near as fast. Then the second-stage engines kick in, propelling them upwards at speed again, pushing them back into their seats.


Question: When Apollo 13 launches, there is a lot of white stuff that look like shingles (I don't know how else to describe it) that fall off the space craft as it is rising. What is it?

Chosen answer: It's ice that condensed on the side of the rocket. The fuel has to be kept at low temperature, leading to the rocket being extremely cold.


Question: Did anyone play him- or herself in this movie? That seems to be typical for many movies of this kind, but I'm not aware of anyone doing it in Apollo 13 (yes, I know Jim Lovell had a cameo at the end).

Chosen answer: Other than a few individuals who appears in archive footage taken from the era, who could technically be said to be playing themselves, no, there's nobody. Too much time has really passed since the original events for anybody to be convincing as their younger selves.


Question: One of the mistakes listed for this film says that Lovell's daughter Barbara slams a copy of the not-yet-released Beatles album "Let It Be" into her rack. How can you tell what album she's holding in that scene, when you only get a split-second glimpse of it? Without using slow-motion or freeze-frame (which is not permitted for mistake submissions), it doesn't seem possible to conclusively identify the album in question. Or is the background music for that scene a song from that particular Beatles album?

Chosen answer: "Let It Be" has a very distinctive cover. If you look at the cover, and then re-watch that scene, you should recognize that it is indeed that album.

Cubs Fan

Question: In the scene where Lovell's wife is watching an interview of Lovell, he is asked if he can recall a moment when he experienced fear. Lovell proceeds to talk about a time when he's in a fighter jet and gets lost. Is this story a real life experience of the real Jim Lovell, or did they make it up for the movie?

Chosen answer: It's a true story. I read it in Lovell's book Lost Moon. Great book.

William Bergquist

Question: There's an "abort" dial Tom Hanks looks at once as they are taking off and once when the engine shuts off. What would happen if he turned the abort dial?

Chosen answer: The launch escape system, the 'spike' mounted above the command module, would fire a set of four thrusters designed to pull the command module away from the rest of the launch vehicle. Pitch thrusters fire to move the command module laterally, in order to avoid the possibility of the module being hit by the oncoming launch vehicle, or to prevent the module from landing in a dangerous location in the event of a launchpad fire. Once these thrusters have done their job, the escape system jettisons and the module lands using the onboard parachutes. The above describes what happens when the control is rotated in the counter-clockwise direction indicated by the control's legend. If the control is instead rotated in the clockwise direction then control of the rocket passes from the computers built into the Saturn V rocket (later jettisoned with the stages) to the computers built into the command module proper. This control was never used in an Apollo launch.