We used to live in a world where lunar landing missions were widely considered to be "routine." A world in which live broadcasts from three men strapped to the top of the most powerful machine ever created, on their way to land on another world, weren't even carried by television stations because audiences had seen it twice already, and therefore were already bored by it.
On the other hand, I have seen APOLLO 13 about fifty times, and will never be sick of it.
APOLLO 13 is the true story of a group of men that embarked on a mission to another world, failed along the way, and managed to come back unharmed. And all of this was done with less computing power than your smartphone. Much more impressively, the Instrument Unit of the Saturn V had the computer power of a modern singing greeting card.
And today people wonder why the first astronauts were required to be completely insane in order to be accepted to the program. They didn’t know their efforts would lead to mass satellite communication, which is responsible for GPS, cell phones, the internet, and The Facebook, apparently. They just strapped themselves on top of a fucking missile and said, “Light this candle."
That’s why watching APOLLO 13 is a lot like watching a documentary about the mission, except with much more attractive subjects. And better writing, too. Just like the one line everyone knows: “Houston, we have a problem," spoken by Commander Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks). Except in real life, that’s not the line (it’s “We’ve had a problem” and it was spoken by Kevin Bacon), that’s just what it got misquoted as for over three decades. In order to appear accurate, director Ron Howard was forced to be deliberately inaccurate and have Tom Hanks speak the line that should have gone to Kevin Bacon. That is one of three errors in the film.
The other is when they take off their EKG sensors and literally give the medical division of Mission Control (non-literal) heart attacks back on Earth. That actually happened, but not on Apollo 13 -- that happened during Skylab 4. Ron Howard just included it because he thought it would be more dramatic (and he was right! Dude should make movies or something).
APOLLO 13 performed extremely well at the box office, and won several major awards. You’d think remembering how exciting and dudefest and amazing fucking space travel is would be all we’d need in order to get NASA the funding it deserves. But no—instead, we’ve lost the shuttle program, lost funding for the intended follow-up, and we have to rent our space travel from the fucking Russians. You know, those guys whose asses we kicked to the moon. I blame everyone in America but me for this problem. So next time you’re cursing at your phone while it says “Searching for GPS signal," do me a favor and punch yourself in the face, because it’s your own goddamn fault. And while you’re at it, write your congressman.
I know, I know, innovation comes from the private sector, and nothing is more of a motivator than some of that eccentric-billionaire-wannabe-space-tourist cash, blah blah blah. Except that being locked into a decades long nuclear standoff with the only other major world power at the time directly led to Velcro, cell phones, Dri-Fit clothing, and tons of other shit you use on a daily basis and never think about. When the government was pumping barrels of money into the space program (and the military, too, because they kind of went hand in hand at the time), the public was benefiting from getting to watch, live, awesome fucking dudes flying to the goddamn moon, and from new products that, otherwise, would never have been invented otherwise.
This was supposed to be a review of a movie I really like, but it turned into a discussion about the state of the space program in the United States. Suffice it to say that APOLLO 13 is awesome, and so realistic that I kind of forgot that Tom Hanks isn’t actually an astronaut (but Kevin Bacon totally is).