Apollo 13 Timeline: Follow Key Moments of Failed NASA Mission to the Moon

Forty-eight years ago, NASA achieved its “successful failure,” saving the lives of three American astronauts who almost died on their way to the moon.

The eyes of the entire nation were upon the Apollo 13 crew as they watched the country’s leading scientists and engineers try to save astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert during the April 1970 mission, the third that had launched toward the moon. An oxygen tank explosion on the evening of April 13 started the emergency response, as Swigert uttered his now famous line, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

On the mission’s anniversary, you can follow along with the key moments of the mission in real time.

Liftoff

Apollo 13 launched at 1:13 p.m. central time on April 11, sending Lovell, Haise and Swigert up on a Saturn V rocket.

TV transmission ends

Just before 9 p.m. on April 13, the astronauts end a broadcast in which they had given a tour of their spacecraft. Lovell signs off with, “This is the crew of Apollo 13 wishing everyone there a nice evening.”

Apollo_13_passing_Moon The Apollo 13 crew passes behind the moon on April 14, 1970, temporarily losing contact with Earth. NASA

The explosion

A “short bang and vibration” warns the crew at 9:08 p.m. that one of their oxygen tanks has blown up, according to NASA. The explosion also led to another tank failing, and “the command module’s normal supply of electricity, light and water was lost.”

In the transcript Swigert reports, “I believe we’ve had a problem here.” When asked to repeat, he says, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Losing oxygen

“It looks to me, looking out the hatch, that we are venting something,” Lovell says at 9:22 p.m., upon seeing their supply of oxygen leaking out. “We are venting something out into the—into space.”

Moving into the lunar module

As part of their strategy for returning safely to Earth, at 11:53 p.m. on April 13 the astronauts powered down the command/service module and powered up the lunar module, which was supposed to be used to touch down onto the moon’s surface. The CSM would later be used during reentry.

The far side of the moon

As they continued on their trajectory to return to Earth, the Apollo 13 crew disappeared behind the moon between 6:21 p.m. and 6:46 p.m. on April 14. Lovell contacts Mission Control by saying, “Good morning, Houston. How do you read?”

mailbox-apollo13 The Apollo 13 crew puts together a “mailbox,” a contraption designed to remove carbon dioxide that had built up in their spacecraft, on April 14, 1970. NASA

Clearing out the carbon dioxide

In response to a carbon dioxide buildup on the spacecraft, Mission Control sent up a procedure for building a device to clear out the dangerous gas. On April 15 at 8:21 a.m., the three astronauts finish constructing their first carbon dioxide scrubber, casually referred to as a “mailbox.”

Goodbye, lunar module

As the crew prepares for the final stages of their return journey, the LM was jettisoned at 10:43 a.m. on April 17.

Hello, Earth

The astronauts entered Earth’s atmosphere at 11:53 a.m. and splashed down 10 minutes later.

apollo13-splashdown The Apollo 13 astronauts are recovered after safely splashing down on April 17, 1970. NASA