Behind the scenes: The making of Space Center Houston’s Apollo 13 bronze statue

The making of Space Center Houston’s Apollo 13 bronze statue
The making of Space Center Houston’s Apollo 13 bronze statue

HOUSTON – Space Center Houston is honoring the dedication of the Apollo 13 crew and the flight controllers in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center who worked around the clock to ensure the crew’s survival and safe return.

At Space Center Houston’s exhibit “Apollo 13: Failure is not an option,” stands next to the Saturn V rocket where visitors will be able to see a 7-foot tall bronze statue depicting the safe return of Apollo 13 astronauts, Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise. The statue will depict the moment they stepped down from the recovery helicopter onto the USS Iwo Jima, a United States Navy assault ship.

“Through our new Apollo 13 sculpture, we are educating the public on how innovation, perseverance, and true teamwork can achieve incredible success,” said William T. Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston. “We thank the Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Illinois for their generous contribution, allowing this historic moment in space exploration to be shared with the world and inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Steven C. Barber, the project advisor, thought of the idea to create the statue.

“When you look at that monument, even though it’s 1400 lbs, and it’s hard bronze and gold, it looks like it’s moving,” Barber said. “That’s the genius of the Lundeen’s.”

Barber asked George, Mark Lundeen, and Joey Bainer to make the sculpture.

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“They are America’s sculptors,” Barber said. “There is no one better than George Lundeen, Joey Bainer and Mark Lundeen.”

Barber also sought out funding for the project and was able to get The Grainger Foundation to donate a sizeable donation that brought the project to life.

For Barber, this project was so personal.

“That moment was the last moment on earth that human beings all collectively breathed a sigh of relief, " Barber said. “This was 1970. I remember I was 7-years-old, holding my parent’s hands praying.” Spending time with Jim Lovell, Barber was able to get Lovell’s input on the project.

“Jim was like, ‘Let’s put us in our flight suits with our converse sneakers, with our hats,’” Barber laughed.

The statue portrays Lovell’s beloved class ring, which Barber said the Lundeen’s had no problem adding. Ultimately, Barber, a documentary filmmaker, said he is excited to tell the story of these heroes.

“I hope that people will be inspired and educated,” Barber said. Space Center Houston said the statue is one way people can honor these heroes, both the crew and the hardworking team, at what was then the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center).

“Space Center Houston is all about wonder and awe and it’s how we motivate people through science exploration to understand that you can do more than what your capable of and what is possible,” Williams said. “Apollo 13 really is an extraordinary story because it’s about how you take an incredibly tragic situation that could have been fatal and you never give up, you always work towards finding a solution. You’re persistent and dogged in moving forward. You work as a team with others, open to ideas, but you’re really focused on a solution,” Williams said.

Visitors can see the new sculpture along with the “Apollo 13: Failure is not an option” exhibit, presented by JSC Federal Credit Union, and the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket, one of only three Saturn V rockets assembled with flight-ready parts on display in the world. The exhibit has unique artifacts from the time period, including the original writing of the flight controllers, original Apollo 13 tools, and more.

The Apollo 13 sculpture is the center’s newest addition to Rocket Park as part of its NASA Tram Tour experience.

The “Apollo 13: Failure is not an option” exhibit is included in general admission. Saturday, April 17, Space Center Houston is hosting two live-streamed panels. Visitors can hear about the experiences and lessons learned during “Apollo 13 Mission Memories,” a panel discussion including Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, Gerry Griffin, Gene Kranz, and Milton Windler. This panel will be held from 12 to 12:45 p.m.

Learn how the Apollo era is paving the way for future missions to the Moon during the “Apollo to Artemis” panel discussion. This panel will be held from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. The panelists include NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Steve Bowen and NASA’s first female chief flight director Holly Ridings.

As part of the center’s health and safety measures, the panel discussions will be live-streamed in-center and viewed in Astronaut Gallery.