It was a sobering cover depicting the aftermath of a harrowing journey: the three astronauts out of the Apollo 13 shuttle with their heads bent, praying, never more grateful to finally return to terra firma. TIME’s cover story underscored the risks and bravery associated with space flight and the need to root out any feelings of complacency at our technological prowess.
Yet the previous voyages had seemed so effortless, the voyagers so confident, the supporting apparatus of men and equipment so efficient, the goals so bold and growing ever bolder, that a degree of hubris had developed. It was not so much frail human flesh against the vast challenge of space as it was technicians remembering the sequence of switches to throw. The world could be forgiven a touch of ennui. Apollo 13’s failure ended that.