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Relive NASA's Apollo 13 disaster right now on its 50th anniversary

An online project called Apollo 13 in Real Time presents the authentic, non-Hollywood version of the explosion that doomed the moon mission.

NASA Apollo 13 launch
The Apollo 13 mission launched 50 years ago, on April 11, 1970. You can relive it via a special NASA re-creation.

This story is part of To the Moon, a series exploring humanity's first journey to the lunar surface and our future living and working on the moon.

Apollo 13, the NASA mission that failed spectacularly to reach the moon but succeeded in saving the lives of three astronauts, launched exactly 50 years ago. And now NASA's Apollo 13 in Real Time website lets you relieve the harrowing events at the same pace they occurred then.

The replay of the launch began at 12:13 p.m. PT, synchronized with the original event on April 11, 1970. You can also easily start the event anytime, selecting a specific moment in the mission or having the re-creation begin at what was then 1 minute before the actual launch.

The specific-moment option lets you skip to the famous drama, too -- the real version, not the Hollywood take in the 1995 movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, the mission's commander. 

If you're watching in real time, the way people did in 1970, you'll have to wait 56 hours after launch for the disaster, an oxygen tank explosion that ended the mission's plan to reach the moon and threatened the lives of the astronauts. If you're less patient, you can find it easily by checking the "mission milestones" list of events.

The Apollo 13 in Real Time site offers a video stream of the mission accompanied by live audio chatter from Mission Control, astronauts Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, and others involved in NASA's third attempt to send people to the moon. Along with the video and audio from the launch site, spacecraft, mission control and press conferences, the site also includes transcripts and photos.

Apollo 13 took place less than a year after the Apollo 11 mission succeeded in landing humans on the moon for the first time.

Apollo 13 Service Module damage

An explosion on April 14, 1970, severely damaged the Apollo 13 Service Module, shown here with a side panel missing.


The NASA site offers the real account of the Apollo 13 effort, but you'll recognize scenes from the movie, too.

If you set the website's ground elapsed time clock to 55:44:15, you can hear Lovell giving a TV tour of the spacecraft: "This little tape recorder has been a big benefit to us in passing some of our time away on our transit to the moon. It's rather odd to see it floating like this in Odyssey while it's playing the theme from 2001. And of course the tapes wouldn't be complete without Aquarius."

Eleven minutes later, the explosion occurs. At 55:55:35, Lovell famously tells NASA controllers, "Houston, we've had a problem."