Film Study Guide


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established in 1958. Although its activities are integrated with those of the Department of Defense, NASA's primary objective is the peaceful exploration of space and the research of all related matters. The agency's Flight Center is located in Houston, Texas.

In 1961, responding to the Soviet Union's aggressive space program, President John F. Kennedy announced NASA's Apollo Project, the purpose of which was to land a person on the Moon. That goal was accomplished in 1969 when three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, landed their Apollo 11 spacecraft on the Moon four days after leaving Earth. A few months later, a second successful Moon landing was achieved by Apollo 12.

Intended to be the third lunar landing, Apollo 13 was launched in April of 1970. Its crew members included James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise. Lovell had flown three previous NASA flights; Swigert and Haise were rookies.

After a flawless liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, Apollo 13 appeared to be headed toward a smooth lunar rendezvous. Two days into the mission, however, while undergoing routine equipment adjustments, the spacecraft jolted violently. The control panel data showed some abnormalities. Lovell informed Ground Control, "Houston, we've had a problem."

Unbeknownst to Lovell, Swigert, and Haise, one of the spaceship's two oxygen tanks had exploded; the remaining oxygen tank ruptured and began to fail. Now 200,000 miles from Earth, the Apollo 13 craft was on the verge of suffering severe losses of electricity, light, water, and breathable air. The astronauts' lives suddenly in peril, they aborted their planned Moon landing and undertook instead a desperate mission of survival. Forced to abandon the damaged main ship, Lovell, Swigert, and Haise would be confined to the lunar excursion module for the rest of their voyage. The tiny vessel was designed to keep two men alive for just two days. But three men were aboard, and they were four days from home!


The Apollo 13 mission is chronicled in the 1995 motion picture Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard. The cast includes Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton (as astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise), Gary Sinise (as grounded astronaut Ken Mattingly), Ed Harris (as flight director Gene Kranz), and Kathleen Quinlan (as Lovell's wife, Marilyn). The historical source for Apollo 13 is Lovell's book of the same title (originally Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13), co-authored by Jeffrey Kluger. Hence, the movie presents a highly accurate, slightly Hollywood-enhanced account of the harrowing Apollo 13 story from training to splashdown.

From one scene to the next, the film's action shifts from the brave astronauts aboard the crippled spacecraft to the frantic engineers and technicians at distressed Mission Control in Houston to Lovell's worried family and anxious friends. Some of the actual in-flight dialogue was condensed or paraphrased so as to make it more understandable to the general public. The real Jim and Marilyn Lovell appear briefly in the movie. He is one of the officers standing on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima at the Apollo 13 splashdown recovery; she can be seen in the crowd during the earlier launch sequence. Apollo 13 is rated PG-13.

Select the best response for each item according to information learned by viewing
Apollo 13, as well as through lecture and assigned reading.
  1. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established under President:
    1. Dwight D. Eisenhower
    2. John F. Kennedy
    3. Lyndon B. Johnson
    4. Richard Nixon

  2. The first human in space was:
    1. Yuri Gagarin
    2. John Glenn
    3. Vladimir Komarov
    4. Alan Shepard

  3. Humans first orbited the Moon aboard:
    1. Friendship 7
    2. Apollo 8
    3. Gemini 9
    4. Apollo 13

  4. The first astronaut to set foot on the Moon was:
    1. Edwin Aldrin
    2. Neil Armstrong
    3. Wan Hoo
    4. James Lovell

  5. Early in the movie Apollo 13, James Lovell's oldest daughter, Barbara, becomes upset because:
    1. she failed her recent exam in American history
    2. James and Marilyn Lovell inform the family of their intention to move to Arizona
    3. she has learned that The Beatles have announced their intention to disband
    4. Mrs. Lovell will not allow her to go to a certain movie with some friends

  6. Ken Mattingly, originally selected as one of the Apollo 13 astronauts, was grounded due to:
    1. improper conduct resulting in official suspension
    2. undisclosed personal problems
    3. failure to pass rigorous pre-flight testing
    4. exposure to German measles

  7. The motto Ex luna scientia, created by James Lovell for the official Apollo 13 mission patch, translates to:
    1. "space, the final frontier"
    2. "the Moon, serenity for all mankind"
    3. "into space, into the future"
    4. "from the Moon, knowledge"

  8. Apollo 13 was to land on the Moon at a rugged location known as the:
    1. Sea of Tranquility
    2. Apennine mountain range
    3. Ocean of Storms
    4. Fra Mauro highlands

  9. Apollo 13's problems were created by:
    1. erratic misfiring of engine power thrusters
    2. collision with a rogue meteor
    3. failure of fuel cells to consistently operate at full capacity
    4. explosion within one of the oxygen tanks

  10. The Apollo 13 astronauts suffered all of the following except:
    1. severely depleted food and water supplies
    2. lack of adequate heat
    3. dangerously thin breathable oxygen supply
    4. malfunctions in their lunar landing equipment

  11. After their return, the Apollo 13 crew was given a tickertape parade in:
    1. Chicago
    2. Dallas
    3. Houston
    4. New York

  12. A thorough investigation of the troubles encountered by the Apollo 13 mission was conducted by the:
    1. International Astronomical Union
    2. Warren Commission
    3. Department of Defense
    4. Cortright Commission

  13. The Apollo 13 flight was officially classified by NASA as a/an:
    1. "aborted assignment"
    2. "adjusted operation due to depleted systems"
    3. "successful failure"
    4. "completed target-error mission"

  14. In Greek mythology, the goddess of the Moon was:
    1. Aphrodite
    2. Orion
    3. Apollo
    4. Selene

  15. All of the following scientists are especially noted for their work in the field of astronomy except:
    1. Nicolaus Copernicus
    2. Galileo Galilei
    3. Johannes Kepler
    4. Louis Pasteur

  16. The first woman in space, accomplished in 1963, was:
    1. Mae Jemison
    2. Ellen Ochoa
    3. Sally Ride
    4. Valentina Tereshkova

  17. Modern scientists have determined that the Moon lacks all of the following except:
    1. atmosphere
    2. minerals
    3. vegetation
    4. water

  18. The correct relationship of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun is most accurately described as:
    1. the Moon revolves around the Earth, but neither the Earth nor the Moon revolve around the Sun
    2. the Earth revolves separately around the Moon and the Sun (creating a repetitious figure-8 pattern)
    3. both the Moon and the Sun (functioning independently of one another) revolve around the Earth
    4. the Moon revolves around the Earth, while both bodies (operating as a unit) are simultaneously revolving around the Sun

  19. Perhaps what is most historically memorable about the entire Apollo 13 drama is the brief remark "Houston, we have a problem." Those actual words were never spoken; nonetheless, the somber meaning of the real in-flight communication between Apollo 13 and Ground Control was fundamentally the same. That famous statement, slightly modified, was spoken by:
    1. NASA official Chris Kraft
    2. Apollo 13 astronauts Jack Swigert and James Lovell both
    3. CBS television news anchor man Walter Cronkite
    4. Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz

  20. The Soviet Union's initial success in the "space race," including the orbit of Sputnik in 1957, brought all of the following responses (immediate or eventual) by the United States except:
    1. formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
    2. announcement of the Apollo Project, of which the expressed goal was to land an astronaut on the Moon
    3. request for additional NATO military forces throughout western Europe
    4. expansion of federal aid to education, especially aimed at increasing knowledge within mathematics and the sciences

  21. In 1986, NASA suffered its second great tragedy, the in-flight explosion of the:
    1. Challenger
    2. Columbia
    3. Discovery
    4. Voyager

  22. By the end of 1989, the only unexplored known planet in the solar system was:
    1. Jupiter
    2. Neptune
    3. Pluto
    4. Saturn

  23. According to international law, territorial claim of outer space bodies by countries on Earth is:
    1. determined primarily by which nation makes the first actual landing on a particular celestial body
    2. based on a theory known as "nation-owned space" whereby all nations are considered to have first-claim rights on any celestial body within the space directly above their geographical position on Earth
    3. subject to a lengthy approval process administered by the United Nations
    4. not possible

  24. It has been suggested that the American lunar landings never actually happened; that NASA's walks on the Moon were an elaborate hoax staged by the United States government in order to maintain the illusion of being ahead of the Soviets in the Cold War race for outer space exploration. Advocates of this preposterous theory offer all of the following as support for their claim except the:
    1. glimpse of a communications tower in some Apollo 11 mission photographs that was supposedly erected by the Apollo 12 crew several months later
    2. lack of lunar dust stirred up by any of the landing modules
    3. identical horizon in the background of movie footage reportedly filmed on different days in different locales
    4. United States flag, planted by the Apollo 11 crew, unfurling in the wind of an atmospherically-starved Moon

  25. The movie Apollo 13 is best described as a/an:
    1. somewhat realistic "Star Wars" story
    2. in-depth history of NASA's race against the Soviet Union to reach the Moon
    3. biographical sketch of Jim Lovell's career as an astronaut
    4. fairly accurate account of the Apollo 13 mission

Choose one of the following. Your response should be 3-5 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).
  1. Briefly trace the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. How did the Cold War affect the activities of NASA?

  2. "The troubles encountered by various Apollo missions can be directly linked to the reckless approach by the United States government to gain Cold War superiority over the Soviet Union." Assess the validity of this statement.

  3. Discuss the main theory behind the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1967) and the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1979). How do these measures suggest that many nations of the world have learned positive lessons from earlier actions regarding wanton territorial expansion throughout the globe?

"Houston, we have a problem."

Click here to learn more about the Apollo 13 mission and other NASA flights.