Fifty years ago this week the world joined in prayer for the safety of the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 after their service module was crippled in space and they could not continue on their mission to land on the moon.

NASA ingenuity and know-how helped Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert make it safely home.

View of the Earth from Apollo 13. NASA photo

Mission Control in Houston celebrates the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew. Catholic flight director Gene Kranz smokes a celebratory cigar at right, while Deke Slayton, in front of the mission patch, shakes hands,  April 17, 1970.

But as believers know, prayer also played a vital role.

The following is the prayer (in part) of Pope St. Paul VI for the Apollo 13 astronauts on April 15, 1970, during their perilous ordeal in space (English translation of the original Italian):

We cannot forget, at this moment, the fate of the Apollo 13 astronauts.

We share the universal trepidation for the fate of these space-flight heroes at the unexpected end of their daring and unhappy adventure. ...

We will therefore raise a prayer to our Father who is in heaven for those daring men, now in danger, and ... to us more brothers than ever.

Thousands joined the Pope in prayer for the heroic trio, as did Americans at the behest of Capitol Hill.

And NASA personnel, including Catholics, also offered supplications for the crew.

Upon the astronauts’ safe return to Earth on April 17, the Pope sent “a congratulatory cable to President Nixon, expressing ‘profound gratitude to God, to men of science, and to all who contributed to make this possible.’ All around the world, similar messages and prayers mingled with long sighs of relief from the great and the unknown. Formally and informally, the world gave thanks to God and to science for the safe return.”

Jim Lovell (l), Jack Swigert (c) and Fred Haise (r) at Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, on April 18, 1970. NASA photo

Jim Lovell reads a newspaper account of the Apollo 13 recovery. NASA photo

And the astronauts themselves gave thanks, praying aboard the aircraft carrier after splashdown.

THANKFUL TO BE HOME 50 YEARS AGO. Cmdr. Philip Eldredge Jerauld (at microphone), ship’s chaplain for the U.S.S. Iwo Jima, offers a prayer of thanks for the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew members soon after they arrived aboard the recovery ship. Standing in the center of the picture, from left, are astronauts James Lovell, commander; Fred Haise, lunar module pilot; and John Swigert, command module pilot. The Apollo 13 command module Odyssey splashed down April 17, 1970, to conclude safely a perilous space flight. NASA photo


Amy Smith is the associate editor of the Register.