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240: Apollo 13, The Conspirator, Titanic

On this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in Apollo 13, The Conspirator and Titanic.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

April 13, 1970. Houston, Texas.

The room we’re in has a row of green computer systems. Of course, they’re not the kind of computers you’d expect to see today—it’s 1970, after all. Most of the computers have operators sitting behind them. The operators all have headsets on, and one of the men in the room is standing up as he gives orders to someone not in the room.

He says we’d like you to roll right to 0-6-0 and null your rates.

On the other end of the radio communication, Kevin Bacon’s version of Jack Swigert confirms the order: Roger that, rolling right to 0-6-0.

Back at the command center, another command gets issued: Oh, and go ahead and give your oxygen tanks a stir. Swigert confirms this order, too, and he reaches for the switch on the control panel for switches that say “O2 Fans.”

The camera zooms along some lines and electricity crackles. There’s an explosion and alarms start buzzing. Metal banging can be heard as Swigert and the two other men inside Apollo 13 look around. Back at the command center, the computers are flashing indicators. Some of the operators sit back with their hands raised.

“Whoa! Hey. What happened?”

They look around trying to figure out what just happened. The camera cuts to Tom Hanks’ character, Jim Lovell, who says, “Houston, we have a problem.”

This scene comes from the movie named after the spacecraft they were on: Apollo 13.

The movie’s portrayal of this event is pretty accurate, although I have to point out one thing that might spoil this scene for you: Jim Lovell’s now famous quote because of the movie wasn’t really: “Houston, we have a problem.”

The actual line was: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Or, in context, here is the communication that took place between the ground and Apollo 13.

055:52:58 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

13, we’ve got one more item for you, when you get a chance. We’d like you to stir up your cryo tanks. In addition, I have shaft and trunnion – –


055:53:06 Command Module Pilot: John L. Swigert, Jr.



055:53:07 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

– – for looking at the Comet Bennett, if you need it.


055:53:12 Command Module Pilot: John L. Swigert, Jr.

Okay. Stand by.


055:55:19 Lunar Module Pilot: Fred W. Haise, Jr.

Okay, Houston – –


055:55:20 Commander James A. Lovell, Jr.

I believe we’ve had a problem here.


055:55:28 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

This is Houston. Say again, please.


055:55:35 Commander James A. Lovell, Jr.

Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a MAIN B BUS UNDERVOLT.


055:55:42 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)



055:55:58 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

Okay, stand by, 13. We’re looking at it.


055:56:10 Lunar Module Pilot: Fred W. Haise, Jr.

Okay. Right now, Houston, the voltage is – is looking good. And we had a pretty large bang associated with the CAUTION AND WARNING there. And as I recall, MAIN B was the one that had had an amp spike on it once before.


055:56:40 Capsule Communicator (CAP COMM)

Roger, Fred.


Part of the reason I wanted to include some of the transcript from NASA is to point out that even though the iconic “Houston, we have a problem” line wasn’t quite what was really said, the movie does a great job of depicting the event overall. We heard them ask to stir the tanks, then a problem happened soon after.

While they couldn’t have known it at the time, after they managed to make it safely home, a review board found fault with the testing of Teflon added to the oxygen tank. In a nutshell, the switches for the tank weren’t rated for enough volts and it seems the oxygen tank that blew up had undergone tests that could’ve detected the issue.

In tests, the Teflon insulation being used was damaged. So, when they stirred the tanks there was an electrical discharge through some cabling that set the tank on fire. One of the panels blew off the tank, damaging another of the oxygen tanks.

What came after that gripped the nation in a way that led to over 40 million Americans watching when Apollo 13 splashed down.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, though, it starts at about 50 minutes and 30 seconds into the 1995 Apollo 13 movie. And we covered it in more depth on episode #15 of Based on a True Story.


April 14, 1865. Washington, D.C.

It’s nighttime. Some men are looking at a nice house from behind some bushes. One of the men sneaks inside the home. There are a lot of people in there, but we can tell from how the man inside is sneaking around that he’s not supposed to be there.

Back outside, another of the men still with the horses looks around to make sure no one is noticing them. No one seems to.

One of the men knocks on a door. From inside, we can see a man lying on bed. A woman sits next to the bed with a man in uniform standing nearby. The man on the bed clearly isn’t feeling well.

Downstairs, someone answers the man knocking at the door. He says he has a package for Secretary Seward.

Then the camera cuts to a playhouse. On stage, two actors are putting on a performance in front of a full audience. Another cut and we can see a young couple chatting, then kissing.

Back at the theater, a man sneaks into a doorway. He ties something to the door after entering it, then looking through a little round hole we can see a couple in the foreground and in the background are the actors on stage down below.

In another cut, we’re now with a man who is drinking. He nervously looks over his shoulder and notices a man in uniform there. He takes another shot, then rushes out of the building.

Meanwhile, at another location, a man runs up a staircase. He takes aim at a man sitting next to a door, but the pistol only clicks when he tries to shoot. He rushes the man, knocking him out before turning to a door the man was guarding.

Inside the door, we see the man in what looks like a neck brace sitting in bed with the woman next to him. The man bursts through, immediately being met by another man who was inside the room. He stabs the guard before pushing the woman away and jumping on the man on the bed, stabbing him numerous times.

The woman runs to the window and starts yelling for help.

Next we’re back at the playhouse. The lines being said by the man and woman on stage doesn’t even really matter to us, the viewing audience at home, but the audience in the movie seems to like them as laughter ripples through the crowd.

The camera cuts to above the stage. A man sneaks into a private booth. While everyone is focusing on the play on stage, we can see a gun extending forward.

A gunshot.

People in the audience scream and a struggle ensues in the box above the stage.

All of a sudden, a man jumps down on stage as the audience tries to understand what’s happening.

The man on stage raises one hand and yells, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!”

Then, he hobbles off the stage. In the alley, a horse is waiting. He hops on the horse and runs into the darkness of the night.

This comes from the 2010 movie called The Conspirator and they’re depicting a sequence of events that really did happen this week in history: The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

And just like the movie shows, President Lincoln wasn’t the only one attacked that night.

They believed President Lincoln was a greater tyrant than Julius Caesar and thought they’d be honored after killing Lincoln. But, killing Lincoln alone wasn’t enough to throw the government into turmoil.

The plan that night was to assassinate three people: President Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Henry Seward.

All three were supposed to be killed at 10:15 PM on April 14th.

The man we see in the movie who is in his bed is Secretary of State William Henry Seward. And it is true that he was bedridden in his home when the assassination attempt took place. The woman by the bed was Seward’s daughter, Fanny, who was staying with him so he wouldn’t be alone. At 11 PM, his son would take a turn by their dad’s bed.

There were a couple soldiers there, too.

Just like we see in the movie, the man arrived at the door saying he was carrying a package. The movie doesn’t get too specific with it, but we know from history it was medicine. He said he was told to deliver it to Seward himself since no one else knew how to administer the medicine. But, one of Seward’s sons stopped him and said his dad was asleep and he’d take the medicine so as to not disturb him.

That’s when the intruder stopped trying to get into the room peacefully. He drew a revolver and shot at the son. The gun misfired, a lot like we see happen in the movie, and so the attacker used it as a club instead. He burst inside the room, knocking down the soldier inside the room first.

Then, he attacked Seward in bed, stabbing him with his large knife multiple times.

While they couldn’t know it that night, but Secretary of State Seward would end up surviving the attack. His neck and face bore the scars of his attack for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, another attack on Vice President Andrew Johnson was underway. In the movie, that’s the guy we see drinking at the bar. And in the movie, we see him end up getting scared off and abandoning the assassination plan.

That is true.

The man who was supposed to assassinate Johnson ended up getting drunk instead.

Of course, we know the third assassination did go according to plan.

John Wilkes Booth was an actor who was known by people at the theater. After all, Booth himself had performed there. So, he was able to gain entrance to the president’s box rather easily since his presence wasn’t anything abnormal.

John Wilkes Booth snuck into the box at about 10:12 PM, raised his pistol to the back of Lincoln’s head and fired.

Hearing the shot, the other man in the box, Henry Rathbone, grabbed at Booth. But Booth sliced at Rathbone with his knife and jumped to the stage. That was about 15 feet, or 4.5 meters below the box where Booth jumped from. As he did, though, one of the spurs on his boots got caught up in the flag draped over the front of the president’s box.

So, he hit the stage hard, breaking one of his legs. Still, he got up and yelled the line we see in the movie: Sic semper tyrannis!

That’s Latin for “Thus always to tyrants,” something Booth believed Lincoln to be. Although he wasn’t killed immediately, President Lincoln was taken across the street to a boarding house that was away from the theater. That’s where he died in the morning hours of April 15th.

If you want to see the event that happened this week in history, though, check out the 2010 movie called The Conspirator. The planned assassinations start at about five minutes into the movie.

And if you want to learn more about the true story, we covered that movie with Lincoln scholar Dr. Brian Dirck over on episode #175.


April 14, 1912. North Atlantic Ocean.

The camera is focused on a man wearing a cap. He’s blowing on his hands and rubbing them together to keep warm. Down below, he notices a man and a woman. They’re holding each other’s hand as they run and laugh together.

Meanwhile, two sailors smile as they see the couple down below. They turn around, continuing to chuckle as they look at at the ocean before them. One of the men starts to look more closely at something in the distance. The camera zooms in on his face as the smile disappears and a concerned look replaces it.

All of a sudden, he reaches for the bell and starts ringing it. Below, the sound of the bell alerts other sailors. One of the lookouts calls down below. When the man on the other end picks up, he asks what they see.

The lookout yells, “Iceberg, right ahead!”

He runs to the bridge and relays the news. In a flurry of activity, they try to turn the big ship while reversing the engines in an attempt to avoid a collision. Men all over the ship are doing their part to try and get the ship to respond to their commands as fast as possible.

From above, the lookouts can see the iceberg. It’s still straight ahead, nothing seems to be changing their course. After a few more moments, the flurry of activity finally starts to take its toll on the ship’s direction. Slowly, it starts turning.

For a moment, it looks like it might work.

But, they’re not turning fast enough. The ship scrapes by the iceberg, causing a rumble and horrible-sounding metallic scraping. We can see the inside of the hull being ripped open, allowing water to start flowing inside. In the engine room, water starts pouring in, causing massive amounts of steam from the fires lit to power the engines. It’s a race against time as the rooms are being shut off to prevent water from spreading. The men try to make it out before the rooms close. Some do, some don’t.

This scene continues on in the movie, but I have a feeling you already know what movie I’m talking about: 1997’s Titanic.

It was 108 years ago this week that RMS Titanic hit the iceberg that ultimately made it sink.

The movie did a pretty good job of showing the event, although the young couple—Jack and Rose—were fictional characters of course, so they weren’t there.

At 11:40 PM on April 14th, a lookout by the name of Frederick Fleet spotted the iceberg. And just like we see in the movie, after alerting the crew about the iceberg, they tried to turn hard to starboard—or, a lefthand turn.

But, there just wasn’t enough time. 37 seconds passed between the time the lookout saw the iceberg to the moment it scraped the right side of Titanic.

Within ten minutes, there was about 14 feet of water and rising inside the front of the ship where it was hit. At 12:00 AM on April 15th, the captain of the ship, Captain Edward Smith, got an assessment of the damage. That’s when they realized Titanic can only stay afloat for another two hours and Captain Smith ordered the women and children into the lifeboats first.

At 12:45, the first lifeboat was lowered into the water. There has been a lot of controversy around the lifeboats on Titanic because, for one, there weren’t enough of them for all the passengers. Secondly, the lifeboats that were there were being lowered into the water before they were even full.

There are reports of lifeboats being lowered with only 28 people when it could fit 65 people.

A little after 2:00 AM, the last lifeboat was lowered into the water. There were over 1,500 people still on the boat.

At 2:18 AM, the last radio message from Titanic was sent out just before she snapped in half, sinking at 2:20 AM. The first boat to arrive on location was almost a couple hours later at 4:10 AM when Carpathia arrived to look for survivors. After they were all picked up, at about 8:50 AM they made their way to New York.

Two days later, another ship arrived at the location where Titanic sank and started searching for bodies in the water. Then, on April 18th, Carpathia arrived in New York with 705 survivors of the 2,240 passengers and crew on board Titanic when it sank.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the James Cameron classic film Titanic. The iceberg sequence starts at about an hour and 37 minutes into the movie, but there were multiple things that happened this week in history: For example, Titanic left Ireland this week in history as well.

We see that at about 26 minutes into the movie, that’s when Jack got onto the ship. Of course, that didn’t happen the way we see it in the movie since Jack wasn’t a real person, but the event we see happening took place on April 10th. So, if there’s a good week to watch that whole movie, this is it!

And if you want to learn more about the true story, we covered that movie way back on episode #35 of Based on a True Story.



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