ICYMI: Several Famous Astronauts Had a Houston Homecoming This Month

“Houston, we have a problem…”

It’s the phrase heard ’round the world (too often, for many Houstonians’ liking), thanks to a thrilling performance from America’s sweetheart, Thomas Jeffrey Hanks, in Ron Howard’s cinematic masterpiece Apollo 13. Though Hanks’s famous line, along with the movie as a whole, featured a few, teensy creative liberties, the real world mission and its many heroes continue to receive stunning memorials half a century after the conclusion of their epic journey.

Space Center Houston honored the legacy of the Apollo 13 mission earlier this month on the 51st anniversary of the crew’s safe return to Earth, sensibly referred to as splashdown day. Apollo legends Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, Gerry Griffin, Gene Kranz, and Milton Windler gathered together beneath one of Space Center Houston’s newest exhibits: a seven-foot bronze statue depicting Lovell’s, Haise’s, and Jack Swigert’s celebrated return to Earth after one of Apollo 13’s oxygen tanks crippled the spacecraft during flight, cutting the mission short and forcing the crew to orbit the Moon and come home without making their historic landing.

Documentary filmmaker Steven C. Barber approached Space Center Houston about this unique undertaking and served as project advisor throughout the creation of the statue, which is intended to share this historic moment in space exploration with the world and hopefully inspire the next generation of explorers. “Through our new Apollo 13 sculpture, we are educating the public how innovation, perseverance and true teamwork can achieve incredible success,” said William T. Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, in a statement.

The one-of-a-kind statue, constructed by George and Mark Lundeen and Joey Bainer, took nine months to complete, and officially opened in February as part of the NASA Tram Tour experience alongside the “Apollo 13: Failure Is Not an Option” exhibit. Artist Mark Lundeen also created a monumental sculpture of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert, placed in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C., and worked with George Lundeen on a sculpture titled “The Eagle has Landed,” portraying the three astronauts from Apollo 11—Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin—that was installed at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. 

As we watch in awe as modern scientists and interplanetary explorers devise plans for space travel that seem more science fiction-based than ever, it’s important to pay tribute to the astronauts and flight controllers who’ve already paved the way to space, broken records, and made the impossible reality.

The “Apollo 13: Failure Is Not an Option” exhibit is included in general admission to the Houston Space Center

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