SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991; Space Exploration;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Teamwork; Male Role Model;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility.

AGE: 8+; MPAA Rating — PG (for language and emotional intensity);

Drama; 1995; 140 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

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TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction;

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.


This film is a realistic dramatization of NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. Because of mechanical problems, Apollo 13 failed to reach the moon and was almost lost. The movie builds great suspense and is deeply absorbing.


Selected Awards:

1995 Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Sound; 1996 Directors Guild of America Awards: Best Director (Howard); 1995 Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Harris); 1995 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Harris), Best Supporting Actress (Quinlan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Score.

Featured Actors:

Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathline Quinlan, Bret Cullen.


Ron Howard.


“Apollo 13” shows men solving problems with intelligence, skill, teamwork, and bravery. The movie shows the process of preparing for space travel in the 1970s. It raises issues of loyalty to individuals on the team against the need for loyalty to the team as a whole. The role that Ken Mattingly played in saving the mission, even when bad luck prevented him from being on the spacecraft, shows that even if you cannot be on the first team, you can still perform an essential role, save the day, and become a hero. Each of the astronauts, in his own way, is a positive male role model.


MINOR. The party scene at the very beginning of the film contains a short, objectionable exchange between the Swigert character and a young woman. He is trying to pick her up by comparing docking a spacecraft to sexual intercourse. Younger children will not understand this exchange. When older children see the film, distract them by talking about something else during this scene or fast-forward the film beyond it. It would be a shame to disqualify this otherwise wonderful movie for 10 seconds of dialogue.

Mild profanity is used by the astronauts and NASA personnel in extraordinarily tense situations. Alcohol use and smoking are shown.


Before or after the movie, comment on how much you admire everyone involved with Apollo 13. They did their best as team players. Without that teamwork, the astronauts on Apollo 13 would have died. You may also want to share with your child, some of the information included in the Helpful Background section of this Guide.


In 1961 President Kennedy committed the United States to a program to put a man on the moon by 1970. His purpose was to provide a clear goal in the American effort to surpass the Soviet space program. The Apollo program landed six space ships on the moon beginning with Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. Three of the missions, Apollo 14, 16, and 17, were extended stays on the surface of the moon in which the astronauts used a two-man Lunar Roving Vehicle to cross the Moon’s surface.

During the busiest years of the Apollo program, NASA had 36,000 permanent employees, 376,700 contract employees, and a yearly operating budget of $5.2 billion. The U.S. spent 25 billion dollars on the Apollo program. No other country has landed a man on the moon. In 1972, most of its goals having been accomplished, the Apollo program was abandoned so that NASA could concentrate on the space shuttle.

Apollo 13, launched on April 11, 1970, was crewed by James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr. and Fred Wallace Haise, Jr. As the space ship was preparing to begin lunar landing operations, an explosion occurred in the Command and Service Module (CSM). The ship lost oxygen. Electrical power and other systems were damaged. The abort systems intended to permit an emergency return to earth were knocked out.

To preserve power, the crew retreated to the Lunar Module and deactivated the systems in the CSM. The Lunar Module had no heat shield and therefore could not be used for re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. After several harrowing experiences, including almost freezing to death and being nearly asphyxiated by carbon dioxide, enough power was found to use the CSM for reentry.

Later, it was found that the cause of the loss of the spacecraft was an explosion that occurred because of a defective wire connecting a fan used to stir liquid oxygen. The insulation on the wire burned, triggering the explosion. No astronaut was at fault.

An ampere (“amp” for short) is a unit used to measure the flow of electrical current, i.e., the number of electrons passing a certain point each second. The batteries in the CSM had been damaged in the explosion and were generating only a small portion of their usual power. Using a flight simulator, Ken Mattingly and the NASA engineers measured the number of amps that each of the reentry procedures required and found a way to steer the spacecraft through reentry with the limited amount of power left in the CSM’s batteries.

Apollo was a Greek God, the son of Zeus and Leto. Second in power only to Zeus, he gave life and light through the power of the sun. He was the God of masculine beauty, patron of the arts, god of music, poetry and the healing arts. He was the purifier of those stained by crime. The Romans adopted Apollo, worshiping him as the god of healing and of the sun.


Using In Classroom Here.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. Should the people at NASA have been deterred by the failure of Apollo 13?

Suggested Response:

Daniel S. Goldin, former administrator of NASA, said that one should never be deterred by failure but that if you learned from your failures, they would be the building blocks for later success. Commencement address to the 2001 graduating class of the Engineering School, University of California, Berkeley.


3. Why didn’t the television networks cover the launch of Apollo 13?


4. Would you want to be an astronaut? If so, why? If not, why not? Would the tedium of all the hours of training be worth it?


5. Do you think it’s important to explore space using manned spacecraft?


6. With all of the problems in the world such as poverty and disease, should we have spent billions of dollars trying to send someone to the moon? Shouldn’t we have spent the money here on Earth to give people better lives?


7. Describe the historical background behind NASA’s program to explore the moon and its importance to the United States in the 1960s. What did this have to do with the Cold War?


8. What does this film tell you about what engineers do?



1. For one of the astronauts on the spacecraft and one of the major characters at NASA describe what you admired most about the characters portrayed in this film. Would you consider them to be male role models?

Suggested Response:

There is no one right response to this question.


2. Which of the men portrayed in this film acted with the most courage?

Suggested Response:

There is no one right response to this question.



3. What would have happened had any member of the crew not worked as a loyal member of the team?

Suggested Response:

They would have all died.


4. Which of the persons portrayed in this film demonstrated the most loyalty to the team?

Suggested Response:

Ken Mattingly.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)


1. Was Lovell right in agreeing to remove Ken Mattingly from the team?

Suggested Response:

Reasonable minds could differ on this point, as it is a close call because the chances of Mattingly getting measles was slight. However, the film takes the position that Lovell made the right decision. He could not sacrifice the potential success of the mission and risk wasting all of the effort and money put into the mission, out of loyalty to one member.

(Additional questions on this topic are set out in the “Social-Emotional Learning” section above.)



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


2. What would have happened had anyone at NASA or on board the spacecraft not done their best?

(Additional questions on this topic are set out in the “Social-Emotional Learning” section above.)


1. Recreate several sets of objects similar to those that were on board the spaceship and available to make the carbon dioxide filters compatible. Divide the class into groups, and ask them to make the square filter fit into the round hole. Make it a contest and see which group can complete the task first and which group can make the best connection. For example, you can test for leaks, increasing the air pressure using a hair dryer or reversed vacuum cleaner.

2. See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction


CCSS Anchors Here.


Science fiction books dealing with space travel that have been recommended for adolescents who are good readers include: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke; 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke (sequel); A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Books on space include: The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System by Ron Miller and Williams Hartmann and Cosmos by Carl Sagan.



In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.

Last updated July 21, 2013.

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