DENVER — Tom Hanks turned the line into a cultural phenomenon, but Denver native John "Jack" Swigert Jr. was the astronaut who alerted NASA to an oxygen tank explosion on Apollo XIII.
Swigert graduated from East High School and played football for the University of Colorado, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1953. He flew for the Air Force before joining NASA in 1966. NASA rejected Swigert twice before then.
On top of that, NASA never intended to put him on the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. When another astronaut contracted the measles, Swigert joined the crew from the standby list three days before launch, as the New York Times wrote in his obituary. He became the flight's command module pilot.
Famously, the astronauts aborted the mission because of the tank's rupture on April 13, 1970, prompting Swigert to utter the iconic declaration: "OK, Houston, we've had a problem here."
If that wording seems incorrect, it's because a screenwriter for the Apollo 13 movie, released in 1995, purposely tweaked the dialogue to make it more succinct and up the drama, the Washington Post reported.
In truth, the script modified a real conversation between Swigert, mission control and another astronaut on the flight, James Lovell.
Swigert: “OK, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”
Mission control: “This is Houston. Say again, please.”
Lovell: “Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
Kevin Bacon played Swigert in the movie. Hanks played Lovell.
The explosion converted the flight into a survival mission. The crew, which also included Fred Haise, was eventually able to guide the Apollo 13 spacecraft back to Earth.
Swigert received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts on the mission.
He ran for Congress 12 years later and won in Colorado's District 6. He died of cancer before he could take office.
People traveling through Denver International Airport can see a bronze statue of Swigert in Concourse B.