Planets and Moons  ID: 4791

Apollo 13 Moon View Using LRO Data

Using color and elevation maps from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, these visualizations recreate with unprecedented fidelity what the crew of Apollo 13 could see as they flew around the far side of the Moon. Several Apollo 13 photographs are at the bottom of the page for comparison. These visualizations have been incorporated into the multimedia recreation of the entire Apollo 13 mission in real time at

Apollo 13 would have been the third lunar landing mission in the Apollo program. But 56 hours into the flight, an explosion in the Service Module changed the flight into a rescue mission. The crew was forced to use the Lunar Module as a lifeboat, and rather than landing on the Moon, they were limited to observing and photographing it from hundreds of kilometers above the surface.

Recreating what they saw requires not only excellent maps but also knowledge of the spacecraft's flight path — all of the animations on this page are views from the position of the spacecraft at specific times during their flight behind the Moon, using the same focal lengths as the lenses on board.

The trajectory used for these visualizations was derived from the position and speed at pericynthion (closest point to the Moon) listed in Table 4-III of the Apollo 13 Mission Report. The inclination and nodes were found using a second point on the path from Table 4-II — the center of the Moon and two points on the path are sufficient to define the orbit plane. The resulting orbital elements are:

Perifocal Distance  1988.8 km
Eccentricity  1.4462
Inclination  173.7°
Longitude of the Ascending Node  -150.74°
Argument of Periapsis  28.7°
Mean Anomaly at Epoch  0°
Epoch  April 15, 1970 00:33:57 UT
Gravitational Parameter  4904.87 km3/s2

See also a slightly different and more complete reconstruction by Daniel Adamo in the Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics (Adamo 2008).

The time ranges shown in the captions refer to Ground Elapsed Time (GET), the number of hours and minutes since liftoff, which occurred on April 11, 1970 at 1:13 p.m. Houston time. The Path and Perilune animations cover five hours of flight in a single minute of running time, but the rest of the animations cover five or ten minutes of flight in one or two minutes, speeding up time by a factor of only 5. When played back at 6 fps, the animations run at real-time speed.


These are a few of the hundreds of photographs taken by Apollo 13. Compare them to the visualizations. Every Apollo 13 photo can be found in the Apollo Image Atlas maintained by the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Used Elsewhere In


Visualization Credits

Ernie Wright (USRA): Lead Visualizer
Noah Petro (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
David Ladd (USRA): Producer
Laurence Schuler (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Technical Support
Ian Jones (ADNET Systems, Inc.): Technical Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

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LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Data Used:
LRO/LOLA/Digital Elevation Map also referred to as: DEM
LRO/SELENE/LOLA/TC/DIgital Elevation Model also referred to as: SLDEM2015
A digital elevation model of the Moon derived from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter and the SELENE Terrain Camera. See the description in Icarus. The data is here.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter/LRO Camera/Natural Color Hapke Normalized WAC Mosaic also referred to as: LROC WAC Color Mosaic
Mosaic - Arizona State University
This natural-color global mosaic is based on the 'Hapke normalized' mosaic from LRO's wide-angle camera. The data has been gamma corrected, white balanced, and range adjusted to more closely match human vision.
Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details nor the data sets themselves on our site.

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