13 Surprising Facts About Apollo 13

Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon star in Apollo 13 (1995).
Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon star in Apollo 13 (1995).
Universal Home Video

After winning consecutive Best Actor Academy Awards for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks was nominated a third time for his role as drifting astronaut Jim Lovell in 1995’s Apollo 13. (He did not win, proving he is human after all.) The consolation prize: the dramatization of the 1970 space program crisis that kept the world on its seat was the third highest-grossing film of the year, and remains one of the most faithful depictions of NASA operations ever put on film.

1. The Movie Rights To Apollo 13 were Sold Before the Book Was Even Written.

In 1992, Lovell—one of three astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission when an explosion cost them fuel cells and oxygen, creating a life-support crisis—decided to write a book-length account of the incident titled Lost Moon. He and co-writer Jeff Kluger finished one chapter and a proposal, which was in turn sent to publishers and production houses. A bidding war was sparked, and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment wound up winning film rights. The movie actually began shooting in 1994 before Lovell’s book was even released. (It was later re-titled Apollo 13.)

2. Steven Spielberg Made a Crucial Suggestion that changed Apollo 13.

To simulate the weightlessness inside the module, Howard and his crew were contemplating using wires and harnesses, a logistical decision that would’ve had his cast suspended like marionettes for months of shooting. Instead, Spielberg (a friend of Howard’s and frequent collaborator with Hanks) suggested that he look into the KC-135, a NASA-owned airplane that’s able to simulate zero gravity by maneuvering 45 degrees up and then plummeting.

Howard’s test shooting went well enough—and his producer, Todd Hallowell, was persistent enough—that NASA granted permission for a crew to film while on board the plane. That meant that ...

3. The Cast of Apollo 13 Endured More Than 600 Controlled Plane Dives.

Because the KC-135 only achieved weightlessness for its occupants for 25 seconds at a time, Howard, Hanks and co-stars Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton had to make roughly 600 dives, called parabolas, in order to capture the amount of footage needed. Thirty to 40 of them were possible per flight, and the crew took two flights a day. Totaling more than four hours, the three actually got more experience with a reduced gravity environment than a lot of real astronauts.

4. Tom Hanks Was Dubbed Apollo 13's “Accuracy Police.”

Hanks had wanted to make a film of the Apollo 13 mission even before Lovell’s book was announced, asking writers to investigate the premise and see if they could fashion a script from the events. When his agent called and told him Howard had purchased the rights, he was predisposed to accepting the role. Referred to as a “closet astronaut” by the crew, Hanks was preoccupied with getting every detail right. One day, he dragged Howard and producer Brian Grazer out of bed so they could watch an astronaut crew in action. Unfortunately, Hanks’ idea of “action” was seeing them walk across a parking lot.

5. A Friend of Jack Swigert’s Was Unhappy With Kevin Bacon's portrayal of the last astronaut in Apollo 13

Kevin Bacon, Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Gary Sinise in Apollo 13 (1995)
Bill Paxton, Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13 (1995).
Universal Home Video

Swigert, who was one of the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13, died in 1982. In the film, Bacon embodies Swigert as a roving-eyed bachelor and possibly a carrier of a sexually-transmitted disease. (Paxton’s Fred Haise comments he might’ve gotten “the clap.”) When the film was released, Barbara Zuanich-Friedman, a friend of Swigert’s, penned an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that took producers to task for his portrayal, asserting he was not the playboy Bacon presented. “Hollywood usually stereotypes its bachelors,” she wrote, “and Jack, 25 years after the fact, fell prey to that chintzy ploy ... He would have loved the film. He would have hated his character.”

6. Ron Howard Refused to Use Any Stock Footage in Apollo 13.

Both NASA and news crews had been meticulous in their coverage of the crew’s departure and subsequent re-entry, and Howard had investigated the possibility of using it for the film. But when his team began studying the footage, they realized most of it had been seen and that it had little coherence—shots jumped around, and no aircraft could get close to the rocket during blast-off. Instead, Howard created all shots of the mission, replicating actual scenes and then augmenting them with angles that would’ve been impossible in real life. It was so convincing that Buzz Aldrin went up to effects supervisor Rob Legato after a screening and asked where he had found the archived footage.

7. Apollo 13 Cribbed a Classic Line From Point Break.

Rumors abound—though it’s never been confirmed—that Gary Busey visited the set one day and suggested to Bill Paxton that his character, Fred Haise, dismiss a bout of nausea with the line, “I could eat the ass of a dead rhinoceros.” Circumstantial evidence is strong, however: Busey said virtually the same thing while portraying FBI agent Alex Pappas in 1991’s Point Break.

8. No One on the Apollo 13 production team Was Sure What Re-Entry Was Supposed to Look Like.

When the three astronauts were able to attempt re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, there wasn’t a frame of reference for the special effects team to draw from—just the verbal recollections of Lovell and Haise, who described the scene from inside the module as akin to being in a fluorescent tube. To create the effect of the module’s fire-covered arrival, cameras filmed a blaze at only four frames per second, which gave it a flickering, smeared appearance to mimic the real thing.

9. “Houston, We Have a Problem” Was Not the Exact Quote from the real Apollo 13 mission.

One of the most popular lines in culture, Lovell’s grim delivery of his module’s malfunctions to Mission Control was not quoted word for word in the film. In reality, NASA received the message, “Houston, I believe we’ve had a problem,” not, “Houston, we have a problem.” (Maybe present tense made it more impactful.) Filmmakers also decided to have Hanks’ Lovell deliver the line; in fact, it was Swigert who first said it, though Lovell repeated it immediately as “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

10. Tom Hanks’s Head Kept Apollo 13 co-star Kevin Bacon From Puking.

Because the parabolas came so frequently, prompting queasiness, the actors took antiemetic medication. While none “spewed,” as Hanks put it, it was because they tried to distract themselves. Bacon recalled focusing on the back of Hanks’ head during periods of extreme stomach upset. It worked, though not everyone was soothed by the sight of famous performers. “One of the camera operators threw up all over Bill Paxton,” Howard said.

11. Apollo 13 Beat Sylvester Stallone and the Power Rangers at the Box Office.

Apollo 13 debuted in a crowded summer movie season, with Batman Forever, Braveheart, and Die Hard with a Vengeance all vying for a piece of the box office. Fortunately, its direct competition on opening weekend was the widely-panned Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and the Sylvester Stallone flop Judge Dredd. Apollo 13 made roughly $25 million in its first three days, or nearly as much as both of the other debuting movies combined.

12. Jim Lovell's original Apollo 13 checklist Fetched $388,375 at Auction.

Because it was shown so prominently in the feature film, Jim Lovell’s original checklist book filled with equations and other notes addressing their mission's issues sold for $388,375 in a November 2011 auction. But the purchase was held up when NASA inquired whether Lovell actually owned the artifact outright. In 2012, President Obama signed a bill into law clarifying that astronauts had ownership of such materials.

13. A Preview Audience Member Hated Apollo 13's Ending.

Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 (1995)
Tom Hanks imagines walking on the Moon in Apollo (1995).
Universal Home Video

Test screenings of the film were generally a success, but Howard was fascinated by the opinion of one 23-year-old who seemed to be aggravated at the film's climax, where the astronauts plop into the ocean unharmed. This, he wrote on a comments card, was “Terrible. More Hollywood BS. They would never survive.”

Additional Sources:
The Making of Apollo 13

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Q&A: Kristen Bell Celebrates Diversity In Her New Kid's Book, The World Needs More Purple People

Jim Spellman/Getty Images
Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Kristen Bell is one of those household names that brings to mind a seemingly endless list of outstanding performances in both TV and film. She is Veronica Mars. She is the very memorable Sarah Marshall. She's the voice of Gossip Girl. She just recently wrapped up her NBC series The Good Place. Your nieces and nephews likely know her as Princess Anna from the Frozen films. She also has one of the most uplifting and positive presences on social media.

Now, adding to her long list of accomplishments, Kristen Bell is the published author of a new children’s book called The World Needs More Purple People. Born out of seeing how cultural conversations were skewing more toward the things that divide us, the new picture book—which Bell co-authored with Benjamin Hart—encourages kids to see what unites us all as humans.

We spoke with Kristen Bell about what it means to be a purple person, her new animated series Central Park, and becoming a foster failure. We also put her knowledge of sloths to the test.

How did The World Needs More Purple People book come to be?

Basically my genius buddy, Ben Hart, and I were looking around and sort of seeing how our children were watching us debate healthily at the dinner table, which is fine. But it occurred to us that everything they were seeing was a disagreement. And that’s because that can be fun for adults, but it’s not a good basis for kids to start out on. We realized we were not really giving our kids a ton of examples of us, as adults, talking about the things that bring us together. So The World Needs More Purple People was born.

Book cover of Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart's 'The World Needs More Purple People'
Random House via Amazon

We decided to create a roadmap of similarities to give kids a jumping off point of how to look for similarities ... [because] if you can see similarities, you’re more likely to walk through the world with an open mind. But if you walk into a conversation seeing only differences, your mind is going to think differently of that person’s opinion and you just never know when you’re going to hear an opinion that might enlighten you. So we wanted to give kids this roadmap to follow to basically say, “Here are some great features that no one can argue with. Have these features and you’ll have similarities with almost everyone on the planet.”

Part of the reason I love the book so much is because it encourages kids to ask questions, even if they're silly. What are some silly questions you’ve had to answer for your kids?

Oh my god. How much time do you have? Once she asked in rapid fire: Is Santa Claus real? Why is Earth? Who made dogs?

How do you even answer that?

It was too much; I had to walk away. Kids have a ton of questions, and as they get older and more verbal, the funny thing that happens is they get more insecure. So we wanted to encourage the question-asking, and also encourage the uniqueness of every child. Which is why Dan Wiseman, who did our illustrations, really captured this middle point between Ben and I. Ben is very sincere, and I am very quirky. And I feel like the illustrations were captured brilliantly because we also wanted a ton of diversity because that is what the book is about.

The book is about seeing different things and finding similarities. Each kid in the book looks a little bit different, but also a little bit the same. The message at the end of the book is with all these features that you can point out and recognize in other people—loving to laugh, working really hard, asking great questions ... also know that being a purple person means being uniquely you in the hopes that kids will recognize that purple people come in every color.

What was it like behind-the-scenes of writing a children’s book with two little girls at home? Were they tough critics?

Shockingly, no. They did not have much interest in the fact that I was writing a children’s book until there were pictures. Then they were like, “Oh now I get it.” But prior to that, when I’d run the ideas by them, they were not as interested. But I did read it to them. They gave me the two thumbs up. Ben has two kids as well, and all our kids are different ages. Once we got the thumbs up from the 5-year-old, the 7-year-old, the 8-year-old, and the 11-year-old, we thought, “OK, this is good to go.”

I hope that people, and kids especially, really do apply this as a concept. We would love to see this as a curriculum going into schools if they wanted to use it to ask: What happened today in your life that was purple? What could you do to make tomorrow more purple? Like as a concept of a way of living.

Weirdly, writing a children’s book was a way of getting to the adults. If it’s a children’s book, there is a high probability an adult is going to either be reading it to you or be there while you’re reading it—which means you’re getting two demographics. If we had just written a novel about this kind of concept, we’d never reach the kids. But by writing a kid's book, we also access the adults.

Your new show Central Park looks so incredible. What can you tell us about the show and your character Molly?

I am so excited for the show to come out. I’ve seen it and it is exceptional. It is so, so, so funny and so much fun. I signed on because I got a phone call from my friend Josh Gad, who said, “I’m going to try to put together a cartoon for us to work on.” And I said, “Yes. Goodbye.” And he and Loren Bochard, who created Bob’s Burgers, took basically all of our friends—Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, Kathryn Hahn, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, and myself—and created a family who lives in the middle of Central Park.

I play a teenager named Molly who is very socially awkward but has this incredible, relentlessly creative, vivacious personality going on only inside her head … and it’s a musical! So, she's awkward on the outside but when she sings her songs she really comes to life. And she's a comic book artist, so the cartoon often switches to what she's seeing in her head.

It's so funny and Josh Gad plays this busker who lives in Central Park, who is the narrator. Stanley Tucci plays this older woman named Bitsy who is trying to build a shopping mall in the center of Central Park, and the family’s job is to basically save Central Park. But the music is so incredible. We’ve got two music writers, Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, who write the majority of the music, but we also have guest writers that come in every episode. So Sara Bareilles wrote some music and Cyndi Lauper wrote some music. It is such a fun show.

My husband, who does not like cartoons or musicals, watched the first couple of episodes, and he looked at me and said, “You’ve got something really special in your hands.” And he doesn’t like anything. It made me so happy. I cannot wait until this show comes out, I am so proud of it.

What was it like to reunite with Josh Gad on another musical animated series that isn't Frozen?

Josh and I talk a lot, and we had a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations about how we can work together again, just because we adore each other. And part of it is because we get along socially, and part of it is because we trust each other comedically. He's a creator and writer more so than I am, so I usually leave it up to him and say, "What’s our next project?" We have other things in the pipeline we would love to do together, but [Central Park] was an immediate yes because I trust how he writes. Josh is at every single one of my recording sessions; he is very hands-on with the shows that he does or produces or creates. I trust him as much as I trust my husband, creatively, and that’s saying a lot.

Given your well-documented love of sloths, we do have to throw out a few true or false questions about sloths and put your knowledge to the test …

Oh my gosh. OK, now I'm nervous. Hit me.

True or false: Sloths fart more than humans.

Fart more than humans?

Yes.

I’m going to say it's true.

It’s actually false. Sloths don’t fart at all. They might be the only mammal on the planet that does not fart.

You’re kidding. Another reason to love them. You know, I was trying to think medically about it. I know they only poop once a week and that if you only go poop once a week ... I thought, “Well in order to keep your GI healthy, perhaps you have to have some sort of flow from the top to the bottom during the seven-day waiting period until you release.”

True or false: Sloths are so slow that algae sometimes grows on them.

One hundred percent true. In the wild, they’re always covered in algae and it helps their fur, all those microorganisms. But in zoos, they don’t have it.

Nice. OK, last one. True or false: Sloths poop from trees.

No way. They go down to the ground, and they rub their little tushies on the ground, and then they go back up.

You are correct.

I know a fair amount about sloths but the farting thing was new. My kids will be excited to hear that.

We heard recently that you are a part of the “foster failure” club. What went wrong? Erright?

Well, what I learned from Veronica Mars is you root for and cherish and uplift the underdog always. And my first foster failure was in 2018; I found the most undesirable dog that existed on the planet. She is made of toothpicks, it is impossible for her to gain weight. She has one eye. She looks like a walking piece of garbage. Her name is Barbara. She's 11 years old. And I saw a picture of her online and I said, “Yes. I just want to bring her over. I don’t even need to know anything else about her other than this picture," which was the most hideous picture. I mean it looks like a Rorschach painting or something. It was so awful. I was like, “She’s mine. I’ll take care of her. I’ve got this.” And it turns out she is quite lovely even though she can be pretty annoying. But she is our Barbara Biscuit, and she is one of the most charismatic dogs I have ever met. She piddles wherever she damn well pleases. So that is a bummer, because she is untrainable, but we love her.

That was our first failure. Then last year, we genuinely attempted to just foster a dog named Frank. And about two weeks in, I realized Frank was in love with me—like in a human way. He thought he was my boyfriend.

Oh no …

I just felt like … I didn’t even want a new dog—well I shouldn’t say that, because I always want all the dogs—but we weren’t planning on getting a new dog. But I had to have a conversation with my family and I said, “I think it’s going to be like child separation if I separate him. We have to keep him.” And sure enough, he can’t be more than two feet from me at any time during the day.

Does he still give you “the eyes”?

Oh my gosh. Bedroom eyes all day long. I can’t sit down without him like … not even just sitting comfortably in my lap. He has to have my arm in his mouth or part of my hair in his mouth. He’s trying to get back in my womb or something.

That’s love.

Yeah, I said, “What am I going to do? The guy is in love with me. He can live here.” So there is foster failure number two.

Wow, so it’s Frank and Barbara.

Frank and Barbara. And we also have Lola, a 17-year-old corgi-chow chow mix. Who I have had since she was one-and-a-half, who was also a pound puppy. She is our queen bee.

Before you go, we do this thing on Twitter called #HappyHour, where we ask our followers some get-to-know-you questions. If you could change one rule in any board game, what would it be?

I am obviously going to Catan ... oh I know exactly what I would do. In Catan, I would allow participants to buy a city without buying a settlement first. In Catan, you have to upgrade from a settlement to a city first, which is a waste of cards. If you have the cards for a city, you should be able to buy a city.

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book as a child was Are You My Mother?

Aw, I love that one. I forgot about Are You My Mother?

It’s a good one.