The Day Apollo 13 Crashed Into The Earth. Or Something.

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I once knew a young woman who was in high school and shall remain nameless. One day I picked her up at school to drive her home, and asked how she was doing.

“Depressed, actually,” she said.

“Why, did something go wrong at school?”

“Kinda,” she replied. “The social studies teacher was out today.”

“That’s terrible, he must be a great teacher and stuff.”

“No, he’s average. But whenever they can’t find a substitute the always show the same movie, and we watched it again today.”

“That’s depressing, watching the same movie over and over.”

“No it’s not if it is a good move. The movie itself is depressing…”

“I’m sure there must be some greater message, though, if they show this movie in social studies class. Was it about some big war, or the Civil Rights movement or something?”

“No, it was about a space ship where everything goes wrong. Tom Hanks is in it.”

“Apollo 13?” I asked. “That’s a good movie! Really very accurate.”

“So that actually happened, that movie? Thanks, that makes it, like, one hundred times more depressing!”

“Sure, it happened” I said. “Don’t they tell you anything about the movie, don’t you discuss it or something?”

“No, this is just the only DVD they have handy that they don’t have to get from the Media Center. Like, somebody owned it and left it there or something . Teacher sick? Find a substitute. No substitute? Slap in Apollo 13.”

“Sorry, your school used to not suck,” I lamented.

“I know, right? But the movie is still so depressing.”

“Yeah but no it’s not,” I objected. “It’s not depressing at all, why do you say it’s depressing?”

“Because everybody dies in the end!”


“Yeah, they crash into the Earth or something. At the end,” she said. Depressingly.

“No they don’t!” I cried. “They do not!”

“Sure, they do. Well, I never actually saw that part, I guess.”


“The movie is about 10 minutes too long or so to show in class. Never saw the end. But just before class ends, every time they are about to crash into the Earth or something.”

“Hold on a second. No…”

“Are you saying,” she said, “that they survive?”

“Yes!” I cried. “Of course, that’s the whole point of the movie! Duct tape, and they survive!”

“Yeah, I saw the duct tape…”

“How many times have they shown this movie?”

“How many times?” she said. “You mean this year or since I started high school?”


“Yeah, I’ve seen this movie about 12 times. I can recite every word.”

“For most of the movie,” I said.

“Yeah, right up until the moment they are about to crash into the Earth or something. But then they don’t I guess.”

By that time we were home. I turned on the TV, loaded up Apollo 13, fast forward to about 15 minutes ’till the end. We watched it.

“Cool,” she said. “Great movie. Totally undepressing.”

“Exactly,” I replied.

“Wait until I tell everyone in my high school. This changes everything.”

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17 thoughts on “The Day Apollo 13 Crashed Into The Earth. Or Something.

  1. Right, that changes everything indeed. Good news inspires people. So, why is it that the good news that we are almost certainly not headed for climate catastrophe not welcome?

  2. The movie is indeed great, but someone needs to write a book about the first 6 hours after the accident. I have listened to the entire period on the flight director loop. You hear all the controllers and the crew, and at times I want to scream at them, but that is because I know what happened and what is happening to the CSM as they are talking.

    The most interesting time is actually about 2 hours into the accident when the final fuel cell is about to shut down. This is covered in just a couple of minutes in the movie, but the real thing is riveting, and it gets very intense. It was in that 6 hours the crew (who were at times well ahead of mission control) and the controllers did everything right. The came very close to doing a lot of things wrong, but they got paid to make the right engineering decisions when lived depended on it, and they did so.

    It was never oxygen, but water and power that were critical, and if they had made the wrong decisions in that 6 hours, they would not have made it. As it was they had a very cold ride home and water was so critical they could drink very little water. (water cooled the electronics).

    It truly was NASA’s greatest moment and I still rank meeting Jim Lovell as the only REAL hero, I’ve ever met. Sorry to be so long winded, but I have really been thinking about writing a book about those 6 hours. The tapes are online but educate yourself on everything they are talking about before listening to them first. Then prepare yourself for 6 hours of amazement.

  3. I was only six years old, but I remember watching the splashdown and understanding that they might not make it. I don’t remember much, but I do remember the TV hosts speculating as to whether there would be anything visible or audible if they did burn up. I love the movie too, but I still find myself holding my breath waiting to hear if they ever do come out of radio silence!

  4. But, were a teacher to come up with a lesson plan that involved watching the movie and discussing the U.S. space program and the Apollo program, the principal and “chief instructional officer” would nix the lesson plan because it involves showing a movie, and everyone knows showing movies isn’t “rigor.”

    And so history gets dull, the space program is taught badly, and half of the students come out remembering the student who mentioned that the Moon landing was faked, and thinking the teacher is an idiot for not knowing that.

  5. Tom Harris, there’s a huge difference between genuine good news and hopelessly optimistic, Dunning-Kruger-soaked denialism.

  6. ” So, why is it that the good news that we are almost certainly not headed for climate catastrophe not welcome?”

    Usually because those who say the good will outweigh the bad (or that climate change isn’t happening at all, or that it was happening but now it’s stopped) cherry-pick data, use strawman arguments, misquote legitimate sources, recite long discredited talking points, claim certain areas, provide ample evidence they’re either lying or profoundly ignorant of the actual science, say things that contradict basic physics, and even contradict themselves in the same set of lectures without blinking an eye—either because they don’t have enough knowledge to recognize they’ve contradicted themselves, or because they figure their audience won’t pick up on it.

    In short, because those people have demonstrated they’re not to be trusted.

  7. Tom, maybe it’s because of one of two things:
    – you don’t know what you’re talking about, or
    -you are flat out lying

  8. I do wonder how coverage of an Apollo 13 type incident would be handled today. It is very easy to believe much of it would be partially filled with “what do you expect, government agencies screw up everything they touch” and “they knew the job was dangerous, we shouldn’t be wasting the money to help them” type dialogs from the tea baggers.

  9. Getting older I find that increasingly I see the beginning and end of movies and nap through the middle. It is kind of odd to be introduced to characters and then see a happy ending. Missing the drama in the middle makes even the most serious film into something of a fairy tale.

  10. Dan Andrews: everything you mention can be applied to climate alarmists as well. Do you really trust James Hansen, Al Gore, David Suzuki and Rajendra Kumar Pachauri?

  11. Why is it the most egregious of ignorant climate cranks always tosses al gore into the mix with the implication that he was ever a scientist, or that anyone who understands sciences looks to him.

    Oh yeah – the cranks do it because they have nothing of substance to offer.

  12. At my HS — central Cal mid-60s — the go to movie was “On the Waterfront”.

    “I coulda been a contenda.”


  13. I love the Apollo 13 movie. Can’t imagine the teachers would cut it short like that and not say, skip some earlier bits or something. Just *facepalm* material there.

    (Although I would’ve thought the students could do their own basic research easily enough as well! How did that movie end? Oh I know let’s wiki it ..)

    @2. Dan Satterfield :

    “The movie is indeed great, but someone needs to write a book about the first 6 hours after the accident.”

    Have you read Lost Moon (aka Apollo 13) by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger by any chance? That’s at least one book I’ve read on it and would recommend.

    @1. Tom Harris : ” why is it that the good news that we are almost certainly not headed for climate catastrophe not welcome?” Because its simply not true!

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