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Apollo 13 expert livetweets entire mission on its 45th anniversary

A dedicated science writer is scouring 150 hours of radio transcripts to recreate the Apollo 13 mission.


Tim Sampson

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 16, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 1:32 am CDT

The livetweeting of major news events is a media staple in 2015. No State of the Union Address or llama chase passes without a deluge of real-time social media coverage.

But one Twitter user is using the social network to help put a past news event into a whole new context. All this week, freelance science writer and spaceflight historian Amy Shira Teitel is livetweeting the mission of Apollo 13, exactly 45 years to the minute after it all took place.

From the launch at 1:13pm CT last Saturday until splashdown tomorrow afternoon, Teitel is pouring through 150 hours of radio transcripts from Apollo 13’s ill-fated lunar mission and sharing all sorts of interesting events, historical trivia, and illuminating quotes about the mission as they would have unfolded in real time.

Apollo 13 was to be NASA’s third manned mission to the lunar surface, until an explosion in one of the spacecraft’s oxygen tanks crippled the vehicle. Working with ground controllers in Houston, Apollo 13 crewmembers Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert were forced to abort the moon landing and instead improvise a survival mission using the spacecraft’s two-person lunar module as a lifeboat while they drifted back to Earth over the course of the next five days.

Despite a litany of potentially lethal challenges, everything from an overabundance of deadly CO2 gas to a critical shortage of electrical power, the crew managed to return safely to the Earth.

The story was famously retold in the Ron Howard film Apollo 13, but Teitel said tweeting the events of the mission in real time can illustrate the struggles the astronauts faced in a way the movie simply can not.

“I think it provides a whole new perspective on this mission,” Teitel told the Daily Dot. “It took three days to fly to the moon. There was a lot of down time. Things didn’t move so quickly.”

Teitel, who’s previously livetweeted the anniversaries of Apollos 8, 10, 11, and 12, said it’s a pure labor of love. Though she is utilizing some secondary sources to help provide context, she pulls mostly from raw radio transcripts in order to provide updates, as they would have appeared had Twitter been around in April of 1970.

“I like to keep it simple, just ‘this is what was being said right now,’” Teitel explained. “[The astronauts] didn’t know they were venting oxygen at the time. They simply reported a master alarm and that’s all anyone would have know at the time.”

Though past missions she’s livetweeted have been well received, Teitel says the popularity of the movie has helped drive a lot of interest in her social media reenactment of Apollo 13. In particular there was a great deal of response to her tweets recreating the now-infamous scene where Lovell, played by Tom Hanks in the movie, tell’s Houston about the onboard explosion.

Teitel’s dedicated efforts have attracted more than 14,000 followers who are watching the mission play out in real time as the spacecraft drifts closer and closer to reentry. They’re no doubt riveted by the drama of the mission itself, but Teitel hopes she can also convey the more human elements of manned space flight.

“From the transcript you get so many human bits of information,” Teitel said. “It’s fun to show people that side of things.”

Photo via [-ChristiaN-]/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)  

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*First Published: Apr 16, 2015, 7:25 pm CDT