Those were the words Jack Swigert said as he reported the catastrophic oxygen tank explosion, which crippled the Apollo 13 lunar mission, to Mission Control. The 1995 movie misquoted the line as "Houston, we have a problem." It seems most sports writers have seen the movie, as invariably, any time a Houston team has a bit of trouble, they will trot out this line. With the rough patch the Astros are in, we are seeing it quite a bit. It needs to stop.
When Swigert said that to Mission Control, it was not an accusation or a criticism. It was a plea for help. After the oxygen tank blew, the lives of three astronauts were in jeopardy. They were 200,000 miles from earth, not yet to the moon, and they did not know whether they would be able to make it back home. They turned to Mission Control in Houston, and Flight Director Gene Krantz, to get them home. The smart men at Mission Control worked tirelessly the next several days, and ultimately pulled off the greatest rescue mission in human history. It was, quite possibly, Houston's finest hour.
So, sports writers, please understand that when you use that line, you are certainly not being original or clever. But, more importantly, you are using it wrong. Its not an insult. Houston should be proud of the phrase, "Houston, We've Had a Problem" because it represents the time the astronauts were in trouble, and they turned to Houston for help. So, if you are going to use it, use it right: "Houston, We've Had a Problem." Meaning, the problem primarily happened in the past, and the smart men in Houston are working tirelessly to fix it.