Nov 222015
Apollo 13 Crew, after their safe return to Earth, on board the USS Iwo Jima. Haise, Lovell, Swigert (L-R).

Apollo 13 Crew, on board the USS Iwo Jima after their safe return to Earth. Haise, Lovell, Swigert (L-R).

I have just enjoyed watching, for the umpteenth time, Ron Howard’s film Apollo 13, which tells the story of the ill-fated Apollo mission that had an accident on its way to the Moon in 1970.

What a great storyteller Ron Howard is. He takes his themes and presents them with style, delicacy, depth, thoughtfulness and moving realism, and as a piece of sheer entertainment his films are often at the pinnacle. Cocoon, A Beautiful Mind, Ransom, Apollo 13… the Happy Days actor has come a long way indeed.

I remember as a teenager – and as someone particularly interested in the Space Race, as it was called back then – the real-time events of the Apollo 13 story. It was extraordinary; the entire world was spellbound, hoping, praying, that somehow the Americans could save their three astronauts from a slow agonising death in space and bring them safely home. It’s true that the filmmakers took creative licence in amending Jack Swigert’s line of “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here” (yes, he said it first, not Jim Lovell, who then followed with “Houston, we’ve had a problem”) into the more cinematically exciting “Houston, we have a problem”; but who cares, really?!

It will forever be one of my great regrets not to have been present at an Apollo (Saturn V Rocket) launch, so brilliantly captured by Howard in Apollo 13. Wow. The astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programmes were brave men indeed, literally going where no man had gone before. And America was great then too, leading the world in such endeavours.

It is surely a sad reflection of the times in which we live that NASA now can’t even get its astronauts up to the International Space Station by its own launch vehicle. Because it doesn’t have one. Instead, they have to hitch a ride on a Russian – yes, that’s a Russian – Soyuz space vehicle.

What a disgrace. Another indication of how the mighty have fallen.

When will America rise again, I wonder?