Failure is not an option

Nail-biting mission: You can help safely return Apollo 13 astronauts to Earth in ‘Mission Control,’ an interactive experience at the Tacoma Dome

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comDecember 21, 2012 

In April 1970, the world was transfixed on a metal capsule hurtling to the moon. Inside were three American astronauts fighting for their lives.

Apollo 13 had left Earth two days earlier in a bid to make history’s third lunar landing. But now the spacecraft had sustained damage from an explosion. With oxygen, water and heat in short supply, the men inside were focused only on surviving.

The ingenuity, skill and can-do attitude of the astronauts and their NASA team back on Earth that guided them safely home are almost the stuff of legends.

If you had been part of the team at Mission Control, could you have brought the astronauts back?

Now you can find out.

The Tacoma Dome’s Exhibition Hall has been transformed into “Apollo 13: Mission Control” – part play, part interactive experience. The show runs today through Dec. 30.

Audience members can sit at retro computer consoles with flashing lights, TV monitors and telephones as they “work the problem” to get the three astronauts back to Earth.

“It’s probably one of the greatest survival stories of all time,” said Brad Knewstubb, co-creator and designer of the show.

Knewstubb and fellow creator Kip Chapman came up with the concept when they visited Kennedy Space Center during a 2007 road trip. Though Ron Howard had made a 1995 movie about the harrowing mission, no one had put on a theatrical production.

Chapman and Knewstubb are natives of New Zealand and that’s where they launched the show in 2008 to acclaim and theatrical honors. “Apollo 13” is making its North American premiere in Tacoma. It’s produced by Bruce Mactaggart who brought “Walking with Dinosaurs – The Live Experience” to Tacoma in 2007.

New Zealand might seem like an odd beginning for a narrative about the American space program, but Knewstubb said it’s a story that belongs to the world.

“When you talk about the moon landings, everyone feels connected to it. It really unifies people,” he said.

Knewstubb said audience members can assume all sorts of different duties during the show.

“As the flight surgeon, you are monitoring the astronauts’ health and making sure if anything goes wrong, you know what to do,” he said.

Other audience members monitor the climate or have maps to determine where the capsule will land and make sure an aircraft carrier is nearby.

“It’s the way the audience reacts to it that makes the show different every night,” Knewstubb said. “When people look like they are panicking a little bit, that’s when you know things are going quite well.”

Despite the tension, they haven’t lost an Apollo 13 yet, he said.

Audience members can take a more relaxed approach (and buy a less expensive ticket) by sitting in the press gallery.

One lucky audience member will be chosen to play one of the three astronauts in the capsule (the other two are actors). Knewstubb said they’ve had 7-year-olds to 70-year-olds step in. “One day we had a very crazy lady who was praying in Russian during re-entry.”

Other actors play mission director Gene Kranz and newsman Walter Cronkite during the 90-minute show which spans from launch to splashdown.

Though the outcome of Apollo 13 the mission is written in history, Knewstubb promises a thrilling ride during “Apollo 13” the show.

“There’s no drama when everything goes right.” ‘Apollo 13: Mission Control’

When: 7 tonight; 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m., 2 and 5 p.m. Sunday; 3 and 6 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thursday; 7 p.m. Dec. 28; 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 29; 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 30.

Where: Tacoma Dome

Tickets: Console seats are $52.50, press seats are $37.50 at or 800-745-3000.


Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

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