Apollo 13: Capt. James Lovell, Fred Haise, and Gene Kranz

Apollo 13 Astronauts Captain James Lovell and Fred Haise, joined by Mission Flight Control Director Gene Kranz

The George A. Andrews Distinguished Speaker Series

“Houston, we've had a problem.” These words, uttered by Captain James Lovell during the dramatic Apollo 13 mission, are now part of the American lexicon.  

Apollo 13 was to be NASA’s third mission to land on the moon. The space vehicle launched on April 11, 1970, with Captain James Lovell (center), Fred Haise (left), and John Swigert aboard. The lunar landing was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded after about 56 hours of flight, crippling the service module. The three astronauts were faced with the possibility of becoming marooned in space. Oxygen was running short, carbon dioxide accumulations began to climb, and the cabin temperature dropped. If they were able to navigate the spacecraft back to Earth, they needed to enter its atmosphere at precisely the right angle.

Through teamwork and decisive leadership, the crew modified the lunar module, orbited the Moon without landing, and returned safely to Earth. Lovell later called the Apollo 13 mission "a successful failure," and mission flight control director, Gene Kranz described it as “NASA’s finest hour.”

President Richard Nixon awarded Lovell, Haise, and Kranz the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970.