Houston, We Have a Problem

The Meaning of ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’

This phrase is self-explanatory, but let’s go over its definition anyway. Basically, it means that some kind of unexpected issue has popped up. Below are two examples of it being used in a sentence.

1. Smith was ready to go to work. However, when he turned on the ignition to his car, he heard an unsettling noise coming from the engine. So he said to himself, “Houston, we have a problem. I should get this looked at.” In other words, this expression means that an unforeseen problem has shown up.

2. Bonnie planted some vegetables in her garden. Over the months they grew big and strong, but she noticed that some wild animals have been nibbling on her produce. “Houston, we’ve got a problem here,” she said with a sigh.

Similar/Related: we have an issue on our hands

the phrase - Houston, We Have a Problem.
Houston, we… are blasting off into space.

Tip: Want to read about more expressions like this? Well, we have a list of sayings and phrases starting with “H” that you can check out. Feel free to explore and find one to learn about.


The Origin of ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’

When some people hear the phrase “Houston, we have a problem,” they might think of the 1995 movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon. However, this expression stems from the events that the movie is based on. So let’s take a closer look at these events and see what we can learn about the phrase’s origin.

In the year 1961, the Apollo program was started by NASA. One of the goals of this program was to land humans on the moon and then have them return safely to earth. This goal was accomplished in 1969 with the Apollo 11 mission. A famous phrase that came from this mission was: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These words were spoken by the American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, when he set foot on the moon.

A year later, in 1970, there was Apollo 13. This mission was supposed to be the third time that humans set foot on the moon. However, something went wrong and it was aborted. What happened?

In short, the spacecraft being used had an oxygen tank fail a couple of days into the mission. When this issue was detected by the crew members, it was astronaut Jack Swigert who reported the incident to NASA’s Mission Control Center by saying, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Mission Control then asked him to repeat the message. This is when mission commander, Jim Lovell, said: “Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These events are where this famous phrase originated.

Note: The words that Jack Swigert spoke to Mission Control Center were shortened sometime after the incident mentioned above. For example, in the American film Apollo 13 from 1995, Swigert (played by actor Kevin Bacon) said: “Hey, we’ve got a problem here.” When asked to repeat himself, Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) said: “Houston, we have a problem.”


Not rocket science

See Also:

It’s Not Rocket Science

If someone tells you that “it’s not exactly rocket science,” what do they mean? Find out, plus see where this idiom comes from.


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