On April 15, 1970, NASA astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise aboard Apollo 13 set a Guinness World Record for the highest absolute altitude attained by a crewed spacecraft at a distance of 248,655 miles from Earth. Nearly 50 years later, that unplanned record still stands as part of a mission beset by technical glitches and saved by engineering heroism.
"We didn't slow down, unlike the others, when we got to the moon because we needed its gravity to get back, so we hold the altitude record," Lowell told the Financial Times in 2011. "I never even thought about it. Records are only made to be broken."
Gliding by the moon's far side at an altitude of only 158 miles, the crew of Apollo 13 were, at the time, one of only a handful of humans to ever gaze upon this strange and relatively-unknown terrain of our closest neighbor. Because the moon is tidally locked, a phenomenon in which an orbiting body takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its partner, only one side ever faces the Earth.
Using imagery collected by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, NASA has recreated views observed by Apollo 13 during the crew's harrowing 25-minute journey around the moon's far side.
"This video showcases visualizations in 4K resolution of many of those lunar surface views, starting with earthset and sunrise, and concluding with the time Apollo 13 reestablished radio contact with Mission Control," the agency said in a release. "Also depicted is the path of the free return trajectory around the Moon, and a continuous view of the Moon throughout that path. All views have been sped up for timing purposes — they are not shown in 'real-time.'"
According to Lowell, despite the astronauts' extremely close proximity, the moon was not the most awe-inspiring scene outside the spacecraft window.
"The impression I got up there wasn't what the moon looked like so close up, but what the Earth looked like," he said.
"The lunar flights give you a correct perception of our existence. You look back at Earth from the moon and you can put your thumb up to the window and hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything you've ever known is behind your thumb, and that blue-and-white ball is orbiting a rather normal star, tucked away on the outer edge of a galaxy. You realize how insignificant we really all are. Everything you've ever known — all those arguments and wars — is right behind your thumb."