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STEM Movie Spotlight: Apollo 13

By Rital Miller and Joslyn Stamp


The Hollywood movie Apollo 13, was released in 1995 and tells the true story of the Apollo 13 mission that nearly ended in disaster. Tom Hanks plays the main character astronaut, Jim Lovell. In 1968, Jim Lovell was the command module pilot of Apollo 8 and became one of the three astronauts to fly to and orbit the moon. Later, in 1970 he took on the Apollo 13 lunar mission.


The story starts in late July of 1969 when Lovell and other NASA families watch the moon landing by the Apollo 11 astronauts. Jim remembers piloting the Apollo 8 mission and wanting to set foot on the moon in the future. Later, Lovell discovers that the Apollo 13 crew could not able to carry out the mission due to a medical problem. Jim Lovell and his crew members were promoted to becoming the new crew for the Apollo 13 lunar mission. On the day of the Apollo 13 launch, The crew broadcast a video of being inside the spacecraft, but none of the news companies carry the transmission. After the video, the crew separates and works on their spacecraft procedure. Soon it was discovered that the oxygen tanks on the Apollo 13 spacecraft were ruptured and beginning to fail. With 15 minutes left of air, the crew had to move from one part of the ship to another. Typically taking hours to move all of the equipment, the crew successfully managed to bring all of their equipment over in less than 15 minutes. Thus, saving everyone and returning to earth unharmed.


The STEM aspects incorporated in this movie are accurate since it retells the true story of the Apollo 13 lunar mission. It gives insight into astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise. And the training they went through before going to the moon. This mission shows how the engineering failure in the oxygen tanks happened and the process of them moving before the time ran out. The carbon dioxide levels were getting dangerously high in the lunar module and the filters in the command module were not in the right shape. The NASA engineers were faced with a high-stakes issue, so they used duct tape to adapt the square filter from the command module to fit into a circular filter hole in the lunar module. This STEM challenge encouraged them to work together and create a solution for their issues. This encouraged them to use utilize the engineering design process at a quick pace, identifying a problem on the spacecraft and quickly brainstorming a solution they could build and test. The social and emotional learning (SEL) utilized is the crews' teamwork during a disaster. Three astronauts were stuck in a spacecraft that was only designed for two, making the tight compact space bring them together. The crew as well as the mission control on earth all made it their goal for all of them to arrive back from a mission alive. An example of this is when the spacecraft exploded, they had to turn all the systems back on, including the navigation system. The people on the ground also had to work together to rewrite new navigation procedures to ensure their viability before it was sent up to the crew in three days, which was originally supposed to be three months.


After watching the film, I would recommend this movie to ages 13+ since it's a movie where the lesson takes older audiences to understand. The general lesson and takeaway from this movie is the teamwork and ingenuity that was utilized in a crisis and that to survive, a person needs to rely on others to do their job and trust them and their competency. Some careers mentioned in the movie are astronauts, mechanical engineers, and flight controllers. Mechanical engineers spend years building spacecraft that are effective and safe to be able to go up to space. The astronauts are those who are brave enough to help advance space exploration and technologies by going up into space after learning how to man a spacecraft and live in space. Finally, flight controllers are the brain of the operation and manage the spacecraft from launch to landing of the mission. They have many responsibilities including the health of the astronauts, and the condition of the spacecraft, and check all systems to make sure the operations go as planned. They are always available 24/7, all days of the year, to ensure the success of all NASA operations. Having such an adventurous job empowers the next generation to pursue exciting careers that are important to our space development.


Although the Apollo 13 movie captures a disaster that happened during one of the operations, it still shows that with teamwork those crises can be averted. The entire Apollo 13 mission told in the movie was considered a “successful failure” since they didn't make it to the moon, but instead showcased the 3 astronauts' immense teamwork and the hundreds of mission control personnel working hard under a time crunch to safely return the three astronauts home.



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