Capt. James Arthur “Jim” Lovell, American astronaut and space pioneer, celebrated his 89th birthday on March 25th of 2017. Jim’s life is an extraordinary story of adventure, which began with a little boy who loved rockets and building model airplanes. Jim was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the only child of Blanche and James Lovell Sr. His father died when he was five years old and Jim moved with his mother to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a couple of years later. He graduated from Juneau High School, where he met his future wife, Marilyn. He became an Eagle Scout and attended the University of Wisconsin in their “Flying Midshipman” program. Later, he attended the United States Naval Academy and graduated as an Ensign in 1952. He and Marilyn married after his graduation.
Jim began his flight training at NAS Pensacola, then flew F2H Banshee night fighters before he began a test pilot training course at the Naval Test Center. Jim’s class included Charles (Peter) Conrad and Wally Schirra, and Jim graduated first in his class. Conrad, Schirra and Lovell were three of 110 military test pilots who were chosen as potential astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. Only Schirra was chosen to be one of the Mercury Seven, with Conrad and Lovell sidelined for temporary medical conditions. Lovell and Conrad applied in 1962 for the second group of astronauts for the Gemini and Apollo programs, and both men were accepted.
Jim flew as Pilot of Gemini 7 and Command Pilot of Gemini 12. He flew as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 8 and Command Pilot for Apollo 13. Jim wrote a book about the Apollo 13 mission, titled Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. The book became the basis for the movie, Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard. From the movie, the events leading up to the April 1970 flight, during the flight, and the outcome will forever be etched in our memories. We experience Lovell’s jubilation at being selected to command the flight, then the tense situation when the explosion changed the mission dramatically, and the successful ending to a mission that could have ended badly. We also see a little of the personal lives of the astronauts and their families, making us feel like we know Jim and Marilyn and their four children.
Jim retired from the Navy and the space program in 1973 and entered the business world in Texas. Jim received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and he continues to receive many honors and recognitions. He was awarded the prestigious Silver Buffalo award from the Boy Scouts of America in 1992 and he was installed in the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1993. Jim and Marilyn had cameo roles in the 1995 Apollo 13 movie. He and Marilyn will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in June of 2017.
Jim is shown (center) in the two photographs when he came to Winston-Salem in February 1971 to speak at the Southeastern Regional Physical Fitness Clinic which met at Wake Forest University. Jim was a consultant to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which sponsored the clinic. The man at the left is Dr. Mike Pollock and the man at the right is Wake Forest president Dr. James Ralph Scales.
Approximately 1,500 people listened to and questioned Lovell during the event at Wait Chapel. He spoke about his four space flights and the adventure of being in the first crew to go to the moon. He said that he became an astronaut because he wanted to do something he enjoyed. He also stressed the importance of being in good physical condition. “We feel that if you’re not in good shape, your backup is, and he wants to go,” he said.
Lovell described the beauty of the meteorites and twilight as seen from space. He spoke about the specialized, freeze-dried food that the astronauts ate in space. He commented that “the longer the flight, the better the food tasted.”
Happy 89th birthday to one of our American heroes, and happy 47th anniversary to the astronauts and the men and women who worked on the Apollo 13 mission.
Stay tuned for the next historical post on April 15th.
Photographs courtesy of Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.