Historical Inaccuracy

One thing that is inaccurate, is that the movie presents the viewer with the general assumption that NASA made up all of the protocols for an in mission failure on the spot. They did this through only focusing on sequences such as the development of the carbon dioxide filter, and the procedures that Ken Mattingly developed in order to power up the Command Module after it had been frozen for a few days. However, the reality behind this is that NASA had been planning for the worst case scenario for some time, especially after the Apollo 1 fire (which the movie references). One example of this is the development of a procedure that enabled the Lunar Module to function as a life boat for a short time.[1] The movie gives one the general impression that NASA developed the procedure for this on a moment’s notice. However, the procedure had been worked on for some time, with astronauts such as Jack Swigert working on it.[2] There had also been instances in other missions where they had tested a procedure on what might be a possible way to fix a problem with the ventilation system.[3] It was as a result of these procedures that the response time to fix the problem was cut down to mere hours. Mattingly also states that none of the problems were actively tested using the flight simulator, as depicted in the film. “So, contrary to the movie and all of those things, we didn’t solve any problems in the simulator. You don’t do things that way. It was good way of conveying the story to the public that we have to work on it, but the public could never have followed the real magnificence of having this group of people laying around doing all these things pieces at a time.”[4] Also, he notes that they had an astronaut who was totally kept in the dark on the procedure practice it, just to make sure that everything could be clearly understood by the Apollo 13 Crew.

However, there is a fair share of inaccuracies present in the film. One such inaccuracy is the level of tension present between the astronauts.[5] This simply would have been unrealistic in any situation. All of the astronauts would have spent hours in the simulator, even if it was not spent together. Also, all of the astronauts were picked because they were military test pilots. In order to have the “Right stuff,” an astronaut had to be able to perform well under pressure.[6] They also knew exactly what they were capable of. There are multiple instances in the movie where either an astronaut, or a member of mission control expressed doubt in Swigert’s ability to fly the mission. The first one is when Swigert is tasked with docking Command Module with the Lunar Module. One of the members of Mission Control States that if he could not dock, then there would be no mission to the moon. In the audio commentary to Apollo 13, Jim Lovell states that this sentiment was outright false. What they would have done if Swigert had missed would be to try docking again.[7] If he was unable to do it, then either Lovell or Haise would have been able to dock with the LM. The second instance of this is when Swigert and Haise get into an argument in the LM over what had happened prior to the explosion. Haise doubted that Swigert had been paying full attention to what was going on. In reality, a trained and competent military test pilot would have been paying attention to everything that was going on, and Haise would have had little reason to doubt that Swigert had performed exactly as he was supposed to given the circumstances. Also, as Lovell in the movie points out, arguing would have been an entirely pointless endeavor for them given the circumstances. This subplot was entirely meant to add drama to the film, and was otherwise unnecessary.

Ken Mattingly’s role in the entire drama was both subtracted from, and added to in the film, in ways that he was not involved with in the actual series of events. In the film, Mattingly is almost the sole person who is in charge of developing the power up procedures for the Command Module. In the audio commentary for the film, Lovell states that Mattingly in this case, was almost entirely a composite character.[8] Though Mattingly was involved in this aspect of the rescue, in the movie he represents a series of people who would have been involved in the development of the power up procedure.[9] The film also omitted Mattingly’s role in developing the carbon dioxide filter. [10]

In rare instances, the movie added scenes that were totally historically inaccurate. One of the few examples of this is the sequence where the astronauts are saying goodbye at night before the launch. They are separated by a road in order to prevent the risk of disease exposure to the astronauts. In reality, this tradition was not started until the Space Shuttle program.[11] However, it would have been a familiar thought to anyone who was aware of the practices of NASA in the mid-90s. The second instance of this is the sequence where Lovell is looking out at the moon, dreaming what it would be like to walk on the moon. This sequence is one of the few that everyone who was a member of NASA at the time has had some level of problem with. In the audio commentary for Apollo 13, Lovell states that his problem with it is that the sequence did not actually happen.[12] The sequence also seemed to emphasize the point that the astronauts did not land on the moon, and they took offense to that. However, there is an amount of historical accuracy in this sequence. The way that Lovell is shown walking, even though it looks forced because of the inability to realistically recreate lunar gravity, is the way that astronauts on the moon walked. Also, Lovell noted that the filmmakers did accurately recreate the suit that he would have worn, if he had the chance to walk on the moon.

 

 

[1] Thomas K. Mattingly II, Interviewed by Rebecca Wright, Costa Mesa, California – 6 November 2001

[2] Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 DVD commentary, Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard, (1995, Universal City, CA : Universal, 2005)

[3] Thomas K. Mattingly II, Interviewed by Rebecca Wright, Costa Mesa, California – 6 November 2001

[4] Ibid

[5] Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 DVD commentary, Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard, (1995, Universal City, CA : Universal, 2005)

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Thomas K. Mattingly II, Interviewed by Rebecca Wright, Costa Mesa, California – 6 November 2001

[9] Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 DVD commentary,Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard, (1995, Universal City, CA : Universal, 2005)

[10] Thomas K. Mattingly II, Interviewed by Rebecca Wright, Costa Mesa, California – 6 November 2001

[11] Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 DVD commentary, Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard, (1995, Universal City, CA : Universal, 2005)

[12] Ibid

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