Despite not actually getting to walk on its surface, the Apollo 13 astronauts were still able to visit the moon from a distance of around 254 kilometres which is closer than most of their fellow Earth dwellers will ever get to it. You can, however, see exactly what those astronauts saw while encircling the moon thanks to a stunning new visualisation NASA has released in 4K.
For those who slept through high school history classes or skipped the 1995 film starring Tom Hanks, Apollo 13 was destined for the moon after blasting off on April 11, 1970, when, two days into the mission, an explosion damaged an oxygen tank in the space craft’s service module.
The mission then changed from exploring the moon to getting the three astronauts safely back to Earth, but the spacecraft couldn’t simply be thrown into reverse or immediately turned back around. The best plan for a safe return was a trip around the moon and while it included eight minutes in total darkness on the far side of the moon, the Apollo 13 astronauts were still treated to spectacular views of the lunar surface before being slingshotted back to Earth.
The Apollo 13 spacecraft did launch with 12 film and television cameras on board, but the quality would have paled in comparison to even what outdated flip phones were capable of capturing. So to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, NASA used data captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft—which has been scanning and creating detailed 3D maps of the moon’s surface since 2009—to recreate the stunning views of the moon as they would have been seen by the three astronauts while they worked to safely return to Earth.
Thanks to the high-resolution scanners used by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which have managed to capture images of the Apollo landing sites including equipment left behind and the Lunar Module descent stages, NASA was able to generate a recreation of Apollo 13's views at 4K, so if you’ve got a giant flat screen TV in your home that can push that much resolution, turn off the lights and inch in a little closer than usual to enjoy this video. It doesn’t play out in real-time, but it’s no less captivating, particularly when the Earth finally reveals itself and emerges from behind the moon, which allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to re-establish communications with mission control.