Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of one of the most dramatic missions in human spaceflight: Apollo 13.

The mission was meant to be the third of the Apollo programme to land on the moon. Crew members Jim Lovell and Fred Haise were set to follow in the lunar footsteps of Armstrong and Aldrin (Apollo 11) and Conrad and Bean (Apollo 12), while Jack Sweigert would orbit the moon in the command module.

Two days into the mission a routine stirring of an oxygen tank caused an explosion that damaged the spacecraft, putting the lives of the three crew in mortal danger.

With the eyes of the world on the astronauts – and on NASA mission control – hundreds of engineers, technicians, scientists, and mathematicians battled against the odds to work out how the crew might be brought safely back to Earth, in a spacecraft that had lost many of its critical systems.

With many assuming that the astronauts would never make it home, the innovation and dedication of those back on earth, and the coolness under pressure of Lovell, Haise and Sweigert, has made the story of Apollo 13 synonymous with triumph over adversity.

The phrase “failure is not an option”, the strapline of the 1995 blockbuster film Apollo 13, was inspired by mission controller Gene Kranz, who directed the NASAmission control team that eventually brought the astronauts safely home.

The launch of Apollo 13 took place as planned at 2.13pm on Saturday, April 11, 1970. The 3000-tonne Saturn V rocket roared into the sky above Cape Kennedy, and catapulted the spacecraft towards the Moon. The 250,000 mile trip was to take three days. The astronauts were scheduled to spend four days on the moon before returning to Earth.

Fifty six hours in, NASA mission control asked Jack Sweigert to carry out a routine procedure: stir the oxygen tanks in the service module. Jack turned on the fans for a few seconds. Ninety seconds later an explosion caused by a short circuit ruptured both oxygen tanks, damaged the fuel cells, the primary communications antenna, and many other critical systems.

The initial extent of the damage wasn’t immediately obvious, resulting in the now-famous report back to mission control in Texas: “Houston, we’ve had a problem”. In the minutes after the “pretty large bang”, as the service module’s oxygen tanks leaked their precious contents into space, it became clear that something serious had happened. The mission’s focus changed from lunar exploration to rescue.

With the service module damaged, the lunar module became a lifeboat. And while the three astronauts on board worked tirelessly in increasingly cold and damp conditions, the team back at mission control was instructed by Gene Krantz to “work the problem”. And there were plenty of problems to work.

From conserving what little oxygen and power remained in the service module and trajectory changes to allow the damaged spacecraft to swing around the Moon on a free-return trajectory to Earth, to working out how to make the square carbon-dioxide filters from the command module fit into the round holes in the lunar lander (solved by a plastic bag, duct tape, and an old sock), to building a new procedure to safely power back up the capsule for arrival at Earth, the team in Houston worked day and night with the crew aboard Apollo 13.

With many back home thinking that the obstacles were too great to overcome, the feeling in mission control was different.

This was a problem to be solved, and with teamwork and trouble-shooting they worked the problem diligently, overcoming many mission-critical challenges. On Friday, April 17, 1970, the command module of Apollo 13 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean with Lovell, Haise and Sweigert safely inside.

The heroism and ingenuity shown by the crew and mission control team of Apollo 13 show what is possible in even the most challenging of times. What could have been a disaster became one of NASA’s “finest hours”.

Apollo 13 teaches us something important about teamwork and expertise. The challenges we all face today will be met and solved by scientists, doctors, engineers, mathematicians – all experts in their fields working collaboratively and “working the problem”.

Tune in daily at 10am to Glasgow Science Centre’s #GSCAtHome for science experiments and challenges you can do at home. On Monday, April 13, 50 years after the accident aboard Apollo 13, find out if you have what it takes to rescue our Easter “eggstranauts”.