The famous understatement was actually made twice by two astronauts. Jack Swigert said, "OK Houston, we've had a problem here." Mission Control said, "This is Houston. Say again, please." Then Jim Lovell said, "Ahh, Houston, we've had a problem." On the recording, Swigert is garbled at the beginning, while Lovell is clear, so the recording of Lovell is often heard, leading to the impression he said it, even though Swigert said it first. It's commonly misquoted as, "Houston, we've got a problem," or "Houston, we have a problem." Because "we've had" implies the problem has passed, Ron Howard chose to use "we have".
Jim Lovell wore his old Navy Captain's uniform in the scene where he greets the astronauts aboard the U.S.S. Iwo Jima. When Ron Howard asked Lovell if he'd like to be in the film as the ship's Admiral, Lovell agreed, but pointed out, "I retired as a Captain; a Captain I will be."
According to Ed Harris, his portrayal of Gene Kranz's reaction to the astronauts' survival, almost overcome with emotion, was inspired by a documentary interview of the actual Gene. While describing his feelings as the astronauts made it back, even significantly after the fact, he started to break down.
The line that Jim Lovell asked his crewmates, "Gentlemen, what are your intentions? Mine are to go home." needs some context. While Lovell actually said this, it seems slightly forced and out of place. This is because when he said it on the mission, they were just coming out of from the far side of the moon and had a critical engine burn coming up. Since it was Jack Swigert and Fred Haise's first mission, they were taking pictures instead of preparing for the burn. That's why Lovell said the line, adding, "If we don't get home, you won't be able to have your pictures developed."
Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) gives a list of instructions to his team at Mission Control and finishes by saying, "Failure is not an option!" Gene Kranz did not actually say this during the Apollo 13 mission, but he liked the line. He would later use it as the title of his 2000 autobiography.
In interviews, the real Jim Lovell had said that he thought Kevin Costner looked a little bit like him, but Costner was never cast. When Brian Grazer and Imagine Entertainment got the rights to the script, Ron Howard signed on to direct, and knowing that Tom Hanks was an Apollo/space buff, Ron sent the script to him. They set up a meeting, and Hanks agreed to play Jim Lovell during that meeting.
The cast and crew flew between 612 parabolic arcs in NASA's KC-135 airplane (nicknamed the "Vomit Comet"). Each arc produced 20 seconds of weightlessness. All of these flights were completed in 13 days. The actual KC135 used (NASA serial number N930NA) was decommissioned in 1995 after 22 years of service and placed on display (2000) at Ellington Field.
Over the course of lunch with Billy Wilder, Ron Howard has said that he was thrilled to learn that Wilder deemed this movie to be Howard's best work as a director, because it was about a guy who did NOT realize his dream, and that's what made it so remarkable.
Ron Howard stated that, after the first test preview of the film, one of the comment cards indicated "total disdain"; the audience member had written that it was a "typical Hollywood" ending and that the crew would never have survived.
Several actors from the movie, including Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinise, visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Space Camp program, and worked on their simulators before production of the movie began, to help them get a feel for what it would be like to work in zero gravity.
According to his book "Lost Moon", Jim Lovell really did make the suggestion to his wife of going to the moon instead of Acapulco, but it was when he got the word that he would be going to the moon on Apollo 8 in December 1968.
Jim Lovell's line "I vonder vere Guenter vent" was made popular by the crew of Apollo 7. Guenter Wendt was NASA's "pad leader" during the Apollo program and was the last man seen by crews before liftoff. After Wendt closed Apollo 7's hatch and his face disappeared from the window, CSM pilot Donn Eisele said, "I wonder where Guenter went." Commander Wally Schirra claims to have stolen the line and made it famous among astronaut crews.
Bill Paxton's line, "I could eat the ass out of a dead rhinoceros." was not said by Fred Haise. It was made up the day of filming by Gary Busey, who was visiting the set at the time and they thought it would be a good country boy line. Busey had previously said the line in another film he starred in, Point Break (1991).
Ron Howard anticipated difficulty in portraying weightlessness in a realistic manner. He discussed this with Steven Spielberg, who suggested using a KC-135 airplane, which can be flown in such a way as to create about 23 seconds of weightlessness, a method NASA has always used to train its astronauts for space flight. Howard obtained NASA's permission and assistance in filming in the realistic conditions aboard multiple KC-135 flights.
The movie makes no mention of a mid-course correction made while en route to the moon which took the spacecraft off of a free return trajectory. After the explosion, a second correction was successfully made to put the spacecraft back on a free return trajectory. Without this correction, the astronauts still would have swung around the moon, but would have missed the earth on the return leg. Although a free return trajectory was agreed upon in the movie, the engine burn to accomplish this was not portrayed. The astronauts also made a four-minute engine burn after swinging around the moon to gain additional speed and to enable them to splash down in the Pacific Ocean. There is a brief reference to this in the movie, but this maneuver was not portrayed.
One of the dramatic developments in the story is the last-minute replacement of Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly by his backup, Jack Swigert. (Mattingly subsequently replaced Swigert on Apollo 16). But Jim Lovell would have never commanded Apollo 13 had he not himself, as backup, swapped places with original Apollo 8 CMP Michael Collins when Collins suffered a herniated disk long before the flight. Had Collins stayed healthy and flown on 8, it's likely that he would have commanded 13, while Lovell would have been CMP on 11 and very likely commanded 17, and thus would have been the last man to walk on the moon. (Eugene Cernan, who had that honor, may have instead been the Lunar Module Pilot of 16, a position he turned down in hopes of securing the 17 command.)
The Time Magazine 'Men of The Year' cover that Haise (Bill Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) look at during the Apollo 11 party at Jim Lovell's house is a real magazine cover, famously celebrating the Apollo 8 mission's orbiting of the moon. However, it has been edited, replacing the original drawing of Lovell with one of Tom Hanks for movie consistency. Borman and Anders remain unchanged, given that they don't appear as characters in the film.
All the screens in the fictional Houston control room were monitored by a software center that was built just below the set. According to Ron Howard, almost three days of production were lost while trying to fix the software, which wouldn't work properly.
At the end of the sequence where a method is devised to fit "a square peg into a round hole" to fix the CO2 scrubbers, a technician is heard saying to the leader of the team that created the makeshift solution (credited simply as "Technician", though it might be assumed that it's Ed Smylie, who was the real guy in charge of that team), "You, sir, are one steely-eyed missile man!" This colloquial NASA title of honor was perhaps most famously bestowed upon John Aaron after he, serving as EECOM, saved the Apollo 12 mission four months earlier, when that craft was struck by lightning during launch and had its telemetry signal scrambled. John Aaron was prominently present during the events of this mission as well. He is the tech played by Loren Dean, who, along with Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise), figures out how to power up the craft for re-entry.
The Mission Control set was nearly a carbon copy of the original one in Houston. The production crew originally wanted to film in the original Mission Control room in Houston, which is now a historic landmark. However, the original room was found to be too small to be used for a film production. The production crew took precise measurements of every part of the room and replicated it on a Hollywood set. One of the real Apollo 13 flight controllers, Jerry Bostick, left the Mission Control set one day looking for the elevator, convinced that it was the real thing (the original Mission Control is on the third floor of the building).
At one point during the return flight there is a bang and nobody is very alarmed; it's just a "burst helium disk." This was actually a significant event, though an expected consequence of the situation. The helium disk served a protective function in the LM descent engine and, after it burst, they might no longer be able to restart that engine. A final course correction, not shown in the movie, had to be done using thrusters instead.
Several items in the movie, including Jim Lovell's jumpsuit and a coffee mug at Mission Control, bear the mission patch for Apollo 8, the mission that took Lovell to the moon for ten orbits a year and a half earlier.
The scene where the engineers are challenged to create a device to use the square CO2 absorbers using only items on board was the inspiration for Cathy Rogers to create the television shows Junkyard Wars (1998) and Junkyard Wars (2001).
The scene of the Saturn V launch shows the horizontal service arms swinging back after the rocket's ignition. The arms swung back in milliseconds after ignition, once the rocket climbed to a height of two inches. In the movie the service-arms goes in one by one, but in reality they went simultaneously.
In an interview, Ron Howard revealed that some critics blasted what they perceived as a "hokey" Hollywood moment in the picture, when Marilyn Lovell loses her wedding ring down the shower drain. The thought was that writing in that fictional moment as an omen of bad luck was overkill. However, according to the real Marilyn Lovell, it actually happened. Fortunately, she was able to eventually recover the ring.
The second of three films in which Ed Harris plays a character who works in the NASA space program. Harris previously played astronaut John Glenn in The Right Stuff (1983). He later provided the voice of Mission Control in Gravity (2013), where his character is once again trying to rescue astronauts in danger.
St. John's Military Academy, the school that Jim Lovell's son attends during the mission, is a real military school located in Delafield, Wisconsin. The scenes in the movie showing the school were not, however, filmed on location.
Although it's true that voice communication with the ground happened much later than expected after re-entry -- creating even more drama -- NASA's radar had picked up the command module about ten seconds before the astronauts established voice communication. So NASA knew that the astronauts were probably okay ten seconds before they actually heard their voices. (It was also possible that although the module had survived re-entry, a leak could have caused the astronauts' deaths, as happened with a Soviet crew in 1971.) This was normal when a space mission flew through the atmosphere on its way to landing -- that radar contact occurred before voice contact.
The film portrays Jack Swigert as a little wet behind the ears, and potentially incapable of docking the command module with the LEM. However, Jim Lovell has said in an interview that the real Swigert actually wrote the Malfunction Procedures for NASA command modules, and therefore knew the machine incredibly well and was more than capable of piloting the mission. Additionally, Lovell said that, had Swigert not been able to dock the ship, it wouldn't have meant doom for the mission, as there were two other accomplished pilots in the CM who could make another attempt at docking.
Haise jokingly accuses Swigart of giving him "the clap" by sharing relief tubes. Haise's illness was in fact related to the relief tubes. It was a urinary tract infection, caused by his continual wearing of the condom-like sleeve needed to use the spacecraft's waste disposal system.
In a scene from Forrest Gump, Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan Taylor states that the day Tom Hanks becomes a Shrimp Boat Captain is the day he becomes an Astronaut. He would go on to co-star as Astronaut Ken Mattingly a year later with Tom Hanks in Apollo 13.
The Apollo 13 emergency situation began on April 13, 1970, six days after the 42nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony in which the Oscar for Best Visual Effects was awarded to Marooned (1969), a movie similar to Apollo 13 (1995) though entirely fictional. 26 years later, Apollo 13 (1995) had the Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects but did not win.
The man sitting next to Walter Cronkite in the brown suit (at 1:30:22) is the real Wally Schirra (Mercury 8, Gemini 6 and Apollo 7), who - after his NASA career - worked for CBS from 1969 to 1975 as consultant and as co-anchor of the network's coverage of the seven Moon landing missions.
The real white vest worn by Mission Controller Gene Krantz during the Apollo 13 Moon shot and rescue mission is displayed in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. However, according the accompanying explanatory information card, its presence in the museum is largely due to the focus on the costume version worn by Ed Harris, as Krantz, in the movie.
Jim Lovell was the first to sleep in the frozen command module. He reported to the others that if they kept still, a layer of warm air would form around them, and stay in place because of the weightlessness. The downside of that phenomenon is that all equipment on board has to be actively cooled due to lack of convective cooling.
In the movie, Jim Lovell is shown driving a red Chevrolet Corvette. This is a nod to an actual program conceived by Jim Rathmann, a Florida Chevrolet dealer, and Ed Cole, who was President of GM at the time. The program offered astronauts a choice of two new cars every year, of which one choice was almost always a Corvette. Mr. Lovell did indeed own a 1968 Corvette, however, his Corvette was silver in color, not the red depicted in the movie. It recently sold through Mecum Auto Auctions. The Apollo 12 crew, Conrad, Gordon and Bean, had identical Corvettes.
There is a scene in which the "Vehicle Assembly Building" is shown. During the Apollo program, that building was actually called the "Vertical Assembly Building". The name was changed when the Space Shuttle program began.
The control consoles that made up the Mission Control Center set were nearly perfect replicas of the real control consoles in Houston. After production had ended, the consoles were acquired by a prop rental house. Some of the consoles were used in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (2014) in the background of the propaganda recording studio, and in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015) in the District 13 control center. Those same consoles - still with badges reading "Panem" and "Property of Capitol District Defense Force" - were used in the Mercury Mission Control set of Hidden Figures (2016).
The scenes inside the Apollo 13 were shot partially in a real in-motion spacecraft, for shots including actual weightlessness, and in a studio set, with the actors simulating weightlessness. In each case, the scenes were shot in reverse order, giving the actors time to grow out their facial hair and then slightly trim it for the next set of scenes. When played forward, this allowed to appear as if the characters went several days without shaving.
The Navy SH-3H Sea-King "66" helicopter from the rescue scene is not the original rescue aircraft from the Apollo missions as previously stated, as the original "66" had been lost at sea before the film was made. Another Sea King (bureau number 148999) was painted up like the original and used for filming. This helicopter can (as of Dec. 2008) be seen on display at the U.S.S. Hornet Museum in Alameda, California. The aircraft was assigned to, and flown by crews from HC-85, a Naval Reserve squadron based at NAS North Island in San Diego, California. HC-85 was one of the last units to fly the Sea King helicopter in the U.S. Navy.
While discussing Ken Mattingly's illness in the NASA Director's office, various prints can be seen hanging on the walls. In one photograph just behind the director's desk, the crew of Apollo 1, with Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee is visible on the wall. A few pictures over, the crew of Gemini 9, featuring Elliot See and Charles Bassett, along with their back-up crew is seen in homage to these five Astronauts who were killed in the line of duty.
Gary Sinise shot to stardom the previous year, appearing opposite Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994), and playing a leading role in The Stand (1994) (TV), which also featured Ed Harris in a small role. That was based on a Stephen King novel. Sinise and Hanks appeared together again in The Green Mile (1999), also based on a Stephen King novel.
The suspenseful underscoring that plays while the crew attempts to build a filter is a recycled/repurposed score, originally used in "The Pelican Brief" (1993), when the protagonists retrieve a safe deposit box and flee attackers in a parking garage. James Horner is the composer for both films.
A few weeks before the accident, a similar situation was given as part of a drill to Kranz and his White Team. The controllers simulated a loss of cabin pressure in the command module just as it entered blackout behind the moon. Sy Liebergot (EECOM White) missed the indication, and had to scramble to devise a way out of the scenario. He and his team chose to have the LEM re-dock with the command module and be used as a lifeboat to get the astronauts back.
Shortly after the spacecraft launches, the crew gets ready for a "barbecue roll". This is a maneuver that is required because of the high temperature difference between the side of the craft that is facing the sun and the opposite side. Like meat roasting on a rotating spit over an open fire, the craft slowly rotates so that the sun's heat is distributed evenly.
Roger Corman: As one of the tour group Tom Hanks shows the rockets to in the beginning of the movie. Amusingly, the notoriously tight-fisted producer appears here as a Senator concerned about the costs of continuing moon missions.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
After the premiere of the film, director Ron Howard asked the audience members to write reviews of the film. While most of the reviews were positive, one review stated that there was no way the crew would have survived the mission. Apparently, the person who wrote it did not know the film is based on a true story.