Monday, July 22, 2019

Apollo 13

In June there was a free screening of Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks at Winter Park's Central Park. I saw the film when it first came out in 1995 on the big screen. It was about the third attempt to land men on the moon. The one thing I remember form that showing was that I was seated in a front row of the theater and the film gave me a huge headache. At the time I was working at Disney Feature Animation and we had a box lunch session in which producers of the film showed us how it was made. The film was directed by Ron Howard of The Andy Griffith Show fame. Some scenes in the film featured astronauts in weightlessness. Back then there was no Digital Effects to recreate that effect so they actually got permission to build a set inside a plane known as the Vomit Comet or KC-135 airplane. It got that illustrious name because it would fly extremely high and then nose dive towards the earth creating a momentary weightlessness inside the fuselage. The remaining scenes in the capsule were usually close ups and to get the effect of weightlessness in those shots the actors would be on sea saws which would gently rock them up and down. Watching the film again I couldn't help but wonder which scenes featured those rocking horses or sea saws.

I sketched as people set up their blankets on the Central Park Lawn. As it grew darker I made my painting darker as well. Twice the film had to be stopped as an Amtrak Train roared by. I finished my sketch about half way through the film as Tom Hanks announced, "Houston we have a problem." An on-board explosion deprives their spacecraft of most of its oxygen supply and electric power, forcing NASA's flight controllers to abort the Moon landing, and turned the mission into a struggle to get the three men home safely. What followed were very exciting solutions to very difficult problems. Oxygen was being vented into space, and the astronauts had to move into the lunar landing vessel which acted as their life raft. With CO2 levels rising they realized that the filter could not keep up with the CO2 they were exhaling. The filter form the capsule they abandoned could not be used because it was round rather than square. On the ground engineers were tasked with finding a way to use the wrong shaped filter. It involved ripping the cover off a manual, some tape and tubing. When reconstructed with step by step instructions the astronauts held their breath hoping the filter would work and it did.

When the aborted mission returned to earth, the astronauts had to go back inside the capsule and jettison their life raft into space. When re entering the earths atmosphere they had to hope that the heat shield on the bottom of the capsule had not been damaged in the explosion which had been caused when they stirred the oxygen tanks. As the capsule was engulfed in flames as it dropped towards the earth everyone in the audience saw a shooting star streak above the movie screen. Apollo 13 was an amazing film about perseverance hope and steely eyes determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable life and death decisions. It was a nail biting ride from launch to splashdown. And watching it under a shooting star shower was and ethereal experience.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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