Commander Jim Lovell reads a newspaper account of the safe recovery of Apollo 13

Meeting Astronaut Jim Lovell – Apollo 13: A Successful Failure

I am, by every definition, a nerd, a geek, a space nut, from astronomy and astrophotography to astronauts and Apollo from aged 4 to 44 (as I currently stand anyway).  Readers of this site (Hello?…..) and the type of posts on this site should confirm that, geek and proud.  So it should come as no surprise that today I’m meeting a veteran of four space flights, a man who flew to the moon twice, without landing, NASA astronaut James Arthur “Jim” Lovell.

NASA Astronaut Jim Lovell, Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.
NASA Astronaut Jim Lovell, Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8 and Apollo 13.

Astronaut Jim Lovell was Pilot of Gemini 7 along with Frank Borman spending 14 days in space and completing the first space rendezvous with Gemini 6 coming as close as 30cm to each other. Jim Lovell then served as the Commander of the final Gemini mission on Gemini 12 along with Buzz Aldrin. In 1968, Jim Lovell’s next mission was as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft using the Saturn V rocket to leave Earth orbit, the first to see the Earth as a whole planet, the first to orbit another world, the first to travel around the far side of the moon in lunar orbit and one of the first humans to witness Earthrise and becoming one of the most famous photos in history. The crew of Apollo 8 then made a Christmas Eve television broadcast reading the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis, at the time becoming the most watched television broadcast ever.  Jim Lovell last flew in space along with Fred Haise and Jack Swigert on Apollo 13, when an oxygen tank explosion near crippled the spacecraft giving rise to his famous radio call to NASA:

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

 

Today’s event is organised by Ken Willoughby and the superb team of volunteers at Space Lectures, with a talk by Jim Lovell titled Apollo 13: A Successful Failure, followed by a Q and A session hosted by the floppy haired D:Ream(y) pop star of physics Professor Brian Cox.  These opportunities to listen to those who have gone around the moon, in this case twice, do not come along very often.  These events are not for profit and any coffers remaining go to supporting UNICEF.

The talk starts with a few clips from the Apollo 13 film directed by Ron Howard.

Professor Brian Cox and Jim Lovell during the www.space-lectures.com Q & A session
Professor Brian Cox and Jim Lovell during the www.space-lectures.com Q & A session

It’s a real pleasure to be here, my first time, I know you’re all space enthusiasts and I know that a lot of other astronauts have all been here so maybe there’s nothing left for me to say.  I have brought my wife (Marilyn) though who is really the stalwart of the space programme, wives are very important, they keep the guys going straight, I appreciate that Marilyn is sitting here to hear, probably for the very first time.

I was actually in the first selection for being an astronaut way back in 1958.  That’s the time when they had the selection of Al Shepard, John Glenn, Wally Schirra.  I didn’t make it that time, we were a class of 32, they picked those 7 guys, I don’t know why.  But then, a couple of years later, they wanted a second group for the Gemini programme coming up, so I applied for that and this time I was selected and we called ourselves the Gemini astronauts.

I made 4 flights into space, they were all interesting flights and this was the time I called the golden age of our space activities.  Everybody was interested in it, a large group of the population was for the programme,  My first flight was Gemini 7.  Gemini 7 was a wonderful flight, there were doctors who didn’t think we could stay or live in space and zero gravity.  When you think about it, we evolved under the influence of gravity, so to prove that we could live in zero gravity and the maximum length of time to go to the moon and back again, we were starting to work on a lunar programme.  Gemini 7 was designated as a medical flight, we had some 23 experiments…and it was really bad news. Those who have seen the Gemini spacecraft, smaller that a Volkswagen.

Astronauts James Lovell Jr. (left) and Frank Borman are pictured just before final countdown of the Gemini-7 launch. The spacecraft has been sealed and is ready for launch. Photo credit: NASA
Astronauts James Lovell Jr. (left) and Frank Borman are pictured just before final countdown of the Gemini-7 launch. The spacecraft has been sealed and is ready for launch. Photo credit: NASA

My companion on that flight was Frank Borman, we had suits that were designed that when they were worn, they were cut so that when you were in flight, you were in a sitting position, because we weren’t going to go out of the spacecraft and if there was a problem, the spacecraft atmosphere failed and went to vacuum, we’d be in this position. We had EEG’s on our heads, blood pressure and heart rate monitors, cuffs on my thighs and calf.  Those of you who have been in hospital might remember that they blew up every 2 minutes, deflated every 6 minutes and this goes on for 2 weeks.  It was a miserable situation.  We were in there for 2 weeks.

Back in 1968, doctors said that in zero gravity, you won’t need the calcium to build up your bones because you’ll be in zero gravity.  Over a period of time, you just fall off with calcium, you don’t store it and consequently we were the first guinea pigs to give that a try. So two weeks before the flight they carefully monitored all of the intake, even to the perspiration of our bodies, they were pouring distilled water as we stayed in little bathing pool to see what the calcium out go was.  Then during the flight they knew exactly what we had for fluid.  Then 10 days after the flight, they again put us in isolation to then see what fluids we needed.  This was to see if there was a change in our calcium balance.  Well ladies and gentlemen I have to tell you that a 2 week mission is not the length of time to find out whether you flew off calcium.  As a matter of fact, even up to today, Scott Kelly who is now flying on the ISS for a whole year, is still doing a calcium balance study.

What happened to the body in the two weeks, we found out several things, first of all we all know, if you can’t walk around, the first thing that goes bad is the muscles, they become weak.  We found out after the flight walking across the carrier deck, my leg muscles were weak, my wife saw that in the move later on and said it looked like I had my pants full. of course the arms weren’t that bad and as we know today in spaceflight they have exercise equipment which is very necessary because otherwise the muscles deteriorate quite fast.

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6 - the first manned space rendezvous .
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6 – the first manned space rendezvous .

One of the other things that we saw was that zero gravity has an effect on blood flow to the heart.  It takes about 6 hours to get fully acquainted in zero gravity and the heart is pumping against hydrostatic pressure of about 1 1/2 feet, in zero gravity it doesn’t, so maybe the brain somehow tells the heart it doesn’t need to be pumping as hard, it can slow down.  So we found out that the heart rate slowed down about 10 beats per minute slower and also we found out that the amount of blood in the body increased.  When we first got information about that, we told the astronauts to drink more water, turns out they didn’t have to because you didn’t need as much blood in the body in zero gravity.  Why, because blood tends to pool down with a gravitational pull, so we have through evolution, have enough blood to keep it up around the head.  One of the things that we continued to do throughout our space flights was medical experiments and how man evolves and whether eventually we can go as far to Mars.

My second flight was different, Gemini 12, the last of the Gemini flights. We had in our Gemini’s 9, 10, and 11 attempted to go outside the spacecraft to do work.  On Gemini 4 Ed White did go out, he was attached to his oxygen hose but he just floated, he had a good time and got himself back in. In Gemini’s 9, 10, and 11 we thought we’d get people to do work around the spacecraft and all were unsuccessful, all the astronauts got overworked, heart rates went way up, they were breathing hard and fogging up their faceplates.  It turned out that we had forgotten Newton’s 3rd law of motion: For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction.  When you take away the effects of Earth’s gravity, the spacecraft became the mass and every time they would touch the spacecraft, it would react.  So we had to figure out on Gemini 12 how could we work outside the spacecraft with this effect.

Buzz Aldrin works on a mock up of Gemini 12. Photo credit: NASA
Buzz Aldrin works on a mock up of Gemini 12. Photo credit: NASA

One brilliant engineer said why don’t we put the crew into a swimming pool, we get a mockup of the Gemini spacecraft, Buzz Aldrin was my companion on this, we put Buzz in a spacesuit, it works just as well in water as it does in space. So we rented a pool in Baltimore and bought the equipment up with the mockup spacecraft down in the water, put weights around Buzz to make him neutrally buoyant, telling Buzz not to swim, and planned certain footholds and handholds and try to see if he could do work under water.  It worked out quite well.  Today, both the United States and Russia have huge pools where they take astronauts before they do any work and practice that before they go up.

One thing about Gemini 7 which was very important, we did the world’s first rendezvous.  Gemini 6 was supposed to go up and do a rendezvous with an unmanned vehicle called Agena.  The Agena blew up on the transit up and then Gemini 6 did not have a part.  Then they realised that Gemini 7 would be up for 2 weeks, so they sent Gemini 6 up 12 days after we were up and we did the world’s first rendezvous.

Jim Lovell has a temperature check with an oral temperature probe attached to his spacesuit during a final preflight preparations for the Gemini 7. The temperature probe allows doctors to monitor astronauts' body temperature at any time during the mission. Photo credit: NASA
Jim Lovell has a temperature check with an oral temperature probe attached to his spacesuit during a final preflight preparations for the Gemini 7. The temperature probe allows doctors to monitor astronauts’ body temperature at any time during the mission. Photo credit: NASA

The 3rd flight of my experience was Apollo 8, this was in 1968.  It was an interesting flight in several respects, it was not supposed to be a flight to the mood.  Two things had happened though in the late fall (Autumn) of 1968 that changed things completely.  We had information that the Russians were going to put a man on the moon in the late fall of 1968. As a matter of fact now that the cold war is over, they were very serious about this, they had put a Zond 5 and a Proton booster, in the Zond spacecraft were animals and they fired it to the moon, it went around the moon, came back and landed in the pacific.  But it was not successful, they had not got their reentry and progress orders good and they suspect the animals overheated and died.  They were very concerned about safety and so they brought another Proton on the launchpad, put Zond 6 onto the vehicle, which also went around the moon.  But there was something wrong, they wanted to be sure.

In the United States, two things also happened, one was the fact that Grumman Aircraft building the Lunar Module, said they could not build the Lunar Module and deliver it by the end of 1968.  Apollo 8 was going to be an Earth orbital flight with the Command Module, Lunar Module, going around the Earth and test the Lunar Module, detach it, make sure it was working while we were in Earth orbit, jettison it and have it land in the ocean, then take the Command Module high, 4000 miles, turn it around, fire the engines down to a Lunar orbit returns, a speed of around 23-24,000 mph to fully test out the heat shield.  When we didn’t have the Lunar Module, what should we do?  It was decided at that point, a really bold decision on part of NASA management, that Apollo 7 was supposed to go up in 11 day Earth orbit, test the Command Module, and that came out successfully, we would change the mission on Apollo 8 and go all the way to the moon. Not only circumnavigate but also go all the way, orbit it and come back.  That was the decision and it was taken in the summer of 1968, we were planning the Earth orbital but we got the word the mission had changed.

I was a navigator on Apollo 8, I spent many a day at freeman Labs at MIT in Boston learning the new guidance system, how we could navigate and adjust our gyros so that we would be able to navigate to the moon.  We did it with gyros in our guidance systems and would always tell us our attitude with respect to the celestial sphere.  The flight on December 21st 1968, those of you who are old enough to remember the year 1968, kind of a bad year, especially in the US, we had Vietnam going on, we had riots, assassinations.  The navigation was successful, we got to the moon, fired ourselves to slow down and got around the moon and saw the ancient old craters on the far side of the moon.  We were like 3 school kids looking into a candy store window, we kind of forgot the flight plan for a second.

Earthrise as seen by the crew of Apollo 8. 24 December 1968.
Earthrise as seen by the crew of Apollo 8. 24 December 1968.

Finally on the 3rd orbit, what we were looking for were landing sites. We were looking for flat areas, the mares, to give the people who were doing the actual landing the greatest chance of survival.  As we came around the near side on the 3rd orbit, suddenly we saw this Earth come up out on the lunar horizon.  Really a fantastic site to see the Earth as it was, all you can see is the whites and the blues of the Earth, the tans of the desert areas.  As you look at the earth, just 240,000 miles away, it looks completely uninhabited, just a small body tucked away going around our rather normal star and that star is just ticked away on the outer edge of the Milky Way and you think to yourself how insignificant we all are.  There’s 6 billion astronauts all trying to do the same thing.

How fortunate we are that we have this place to live.  People often say that I hope to got heaven when I die, ladies and gentlemen, you go to heaven when you were born, because this is what it all is, the sky, the water, the interaction among people, this is really the place that is a heaven. This was the most significant flight of my career, the first to navigate that whole area, to see the Earth as it really is, look for suitable landing spots for the later landing flights.

Jim Lovell at Space Lectures, 31st October 2015.
Jim Lovell at Space Lectures, 31st October 2015.

My last flight was Apollo 13, it was to be the 3rd lunar landing mission.  We had landed Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 on flat areas, they wanted us to go into the hills of the lunar highlands so we selected a place called Fra Mauro.  But this flight was plagued by bad omens from the very beginning.  Years before the flight was about to take out, the factory making the oxygen tanks dropped one of them on the factory floor. They picked it up, refurbished it and made sure it was ready for anything it could do in flight.  the tank was originally scheduled to go on Apollo 10 but since it was delayed in transfer they redesignated it to go on Apollo 13.

I was scheduled for Apollo 14 but months before my take off time, NASA said that Al Shepard who had 13, he was grounded for several years, they didn’t think he’d had enough training and would you mind taking Apollo 13 and giving Al Shepard 14.  I said no, I’ll take off 6 months earlier.  i came home and told my wife that I just got Apollo 13, she said “you did what!”  She said “don’t you know about Apollo 13?”  Two weeks before the flight though they did a test on the spacecraft, called a countdown demonstration test. The spacecraft sat on the big booster, no fuel on it this time, to make sure everything worked fine, launch crew was in place, the flight crew went into the space craft and counted this down all the way to zero to find out if everything had worked, all the systems had turned on at the right time ready for our flight.

Apollo 13 crew before launch. Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise.
Apollo 13 crew before launch. Jack Swigert, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise.

The test was perfect, no problem.  After the test was completed, the ground crew came over and started to secure the spacecraft.  When they started to remove the liquid oxygen from the tanks, with one of the tanks they couldn’t remove it in the normal manner.  This was the tank that was dropped at the factory.  So when you think about it, everything works fine in flight, the only thing we can’t do is remove the oxygen in one of our tests,  In that tank was a little heater and the heaters purpose was to blow of a little bit of the liquid to pressurise the spacecraft, provide oxygen for breathing and also to the fuels cells to provide electricity.

After a while they said while don’t we just boil the oxygen, that way we don’t have to wait another month to put another tank in there, take at least a month do all the tests, this way we can cut a little time and see if it works.  The spacecraft flew on 28 volts of DC power, everything was built around that system.  But what the crew did was put ground power to the spacecraft to turn on the heater.  Ground power was 55 volts DC power, and as they expected the heater came on, they started to boil off all the liquid oxygen but there was a little thermostat above the heater that when the temperature got up to around 80 degrees, remember that liquid oxygen is around -250 degrees, the little thermostat started to open up to kill off the power and prevent it from doing any harm.  The high voltage welded the contacts shut and from then on we had no protection.  We know now from tests after the flight that inside that liquid oxygen tank, when all of the liquid oxygen was almost depleted that the temperature got up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Damage to the heater system with the wires exposed and teflon had melted, but from the outside it appeared that nothing had happened and everyone was happy. On launch day when they filled up the tank with liquid oxygen, it was a bomb waiting to go off.

Apollo 13 explosion
Apollo 13 explosion

4 days before the flight, we discovered the entire crew had been exposed to the measles, talk about bad omens.  the doctors found out that were were married, our kids had measles too, that we were immune to the disease.  But Ken Mattingly was a bachelor, never had the measles and the doctors were sure that when he was by himself orbiting the moon waiting for fred Haise and I to come up and rendezvous, that he would get the measles. Suddenly Ken was dropped and Jack Swigert was put aboard.  On launch day we took off on April 11, 1970 at 13:13 central standard time.

The Saturn V took off, the first stage worked perfectly and jettisoned that, lit the engines on the second stage and about 2 minutes before it should have, the centre engine (there were 5) shut down.  We know now that it was going divergent on its structure and had it not shut down, it would have disintegrated, caught the other 4 engines and made for a very short flight.  we went around the Earth to check out our spacecraft and then fired our rocket to go all the way to the moon, that was the 2nd time on the third stage.  What we had was what was called a free return course at 24000 miles per hour and put it on a course that could cruise all the way to the moon, the course was such that if we had lost our main maneuvering engine on our spacecraft, it would still take us to the moon and just with the attitude rockets, with the help of the moon’s gravity as it passes, we would turn around and come back to the earth with the proper course to make it through the atmosphere and land back on earth.  That’s why it’s called free return, every flight from Apollo 8 to Apollo 17 started out on this extra safety factor.

About 13 hours out though, i got a call from mission control and they said that if you want to land at Fra Mauro, you want the sun in the proper position so you can see the shadows of the rocks on the surface, we’d have to get off that free return course.  We said fine, flipped over the spacecraft, they were married together now, the lunar module called Aquarius, Odyssey was our main spacecraft, so I got the instruction on how to make the attitude change, lit the lunar engine, it worked perfectly happy and we got a new course to to the moon called a hybrid.  This course will also take us directly to the moon, but now if something should happen to the engine, we were on a course that would take us to the moon and with our our attitude rockets and the moon’s gravity, could turn around, come back down to the Earth to the closest point of approach, about 40, 000 miles out.  That’s too far out to be captured by the Earth’s atmosphere for any kind of plan.

Apollo 13 Command/Service Module damage
Apollo 13 Command/Service Module damage

I didn’t worry about it, this was my 4th flight at this stage, second time to the moon, the stars, the sights, the sounds, even the smells were familiar, everything was fine.  Two days out, we were just finishing up a TV programme, so on April 13, the explosion occurred and the whole project changed from lunar landing on the moon to one of survival.  At first we didn’t know what went wrong, we thought maybe a meteor had hit the lunar module and we knew that we would be losing atmosphere so we quickly tried to put the hatch in to separate the Command Service Module, which we were in, with the lunar module – much like what a submarine crew would do if they had the same type of a problem.  Believe it or not Fred Haise and Jack Swigert tried it several times, couldn’t do it, I pushed them aside and let me try it, I couldn’t put the hatch back in and that hatch had to be back in to make a safe landing back on Earth.  We tied the hatch up and then realised we weren’t dead yet, so obviously a meteor hadn’t hit and what was the situation.

I then for some reason looked out the side window and saw escaping at a high rate of speed a gaseous substance, then it dawned on me what the situation was. It had happened somewhere back in the service module and we were losing oxygen.  At that time I went back to look at the instrument panel and sure enough, the gauge on one tank was zero and the gauge on the other tank was starting to come down.  We knew at that time that the only way we were going to get home was to use the lunar module as a lifeboat to get home.  Mission Control couldn’t believe what was happening, when they say that we had lost 3 fuel cells, computer telemetry and radio for a while, they thought it was a communication problem.  They thought the communications that come from the spacecraft and give us the same reading on our consoles probably got interrupted by a solar flare.

Jim Lovell during Apollo 13 training.
Jim Lovell during Apollo 13 training.

We knew what was happening and we got into that lunar module.  They’re a very fragile device, the skin of the vehicle is so thin that if you really wanted to you could punch a hole right through it. It was only designed to last 45 hours.  once you were in lunar orbit, you power up, 2 people would get in, land explore, come back up, dock again and then of course flew the vehicle away.  Of course it only supported 2 people for 45 hours, after the explosion, i counted the crew..1..2..3… We turned on all the systems anyway, the guidance system, the computer, now what do we do to have to get home.

The first thing after the ground realised we were in serious trouble was perhaps that he had better get you back on the free return course.  I thought that was a good idea, I thought I would rather come round and come back to the Earth and would somehow intercept the Earth, not s much that it’s survivable, rather than be a monument to our space programme that went out 240,000 miles in along elliptical orbit, around the Earth at perigee at 40,000 miles and keep doing that for years and years and years…

They asked if the Command Module was dead, I said there was no power, no oxygen, we can’t use the propulsion system because we’ve lost electricity.  They said to use the lunar module landing engine to make the transition, so they work out the attitude to move these two vehicles so that you can get back on the free return course.  When I got the attitude and started the maneuver, I learned something that I took with me for a lifetime – always expect the unexpected.  I used the attitude systems on the lunar module to make the maneuver. It turns out the lunar had never been designed to be maneuvered with the Command Service Module attached, that’s a 16,000 lbs dead mass.  The centre of gravity was way out in the field some place, not in the centre of the lunar module where the attitude rockets were good.  I had to learn in a short period of time how to maneuver in that situation, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn if in a deep problem.  I thought I had the proper attitude I needed, we lit the lunar landing engine and maneuvered onto the proper course.

Jim Lovell. Apollo 13 Hasselblad image from film magazine 59/R - Transfer from LM to CM; LM undocking prior to reentry
Jim Lovell. Apollo 13 Hasselblad image from film magazine 59/R – Transfer from LM to CM; LM undocking prior to reentry

We still didn’t have enough electrical power to get home, it was only designed for 45 hours, we were 90 hours from home, so I knew we were in deep trouble. The ground called us up and told us they were working on a plan that would get us around the moon, speed us up to get us home before the batteries died out which is the most important thing. They they told us to remember that when we go behind the moon that we will lose communication so be ready to copy these instructions, we’re sending a crew down to the simulator, have them work through these procedures.  I had my two companions sitting right here with me so I miss something, they’ll pick up, all 3 will be listening.

In a little while the moon kept getting bigger and bigger, we’d passed the sphere of influence now.  On the way to the moon you slow down to about 2000mph because the Earth is pulling you back all the time, the moon’s gravity is now in control.  They then said they’d got the procedures, “are you ready to copy?”  I said yes and looked at my companions thinking they were interested – they weren’t even listening, they were looking at the moon, they had cameras in their hands!  I said gentlemen, what is your project here, what are you doing.  They said “Jim, we’re on the far side of the moon, we’re going to take some pictures, we don’t see the far side from the Earth.”  I said if we don’t get home, you won’t get them developed!

Jim, we're on the far side of the moon, we're going to take some pictures, we don't see the far side from the Earth." I said if we don't get home, you won't get them developed!
The far sideof the moon as photographed by Apollo 13.
“Jim, we’re on the far side of the moon, we’re going to take some pictures, we don’t see the far side from the Earth.”
“I said if we don’t get home, you won’t get them developed!”

They took their pictures, I got the instructions and after about 2 1/2 hours after we’d got around the moon, we luit the engine for a second time for over 4 minutes, pushed us faster and faster.  Then we shut off all those other devices you would not be caught up there without, guidance system used up too much power, the computer, auto pilot.  The only thing we had going was the radio to talk to the Earth and a little fan to circulate the atmosphere.  Things were kind of quiet and when things are quiet and you’re in a tough spot with nothing to do, you start to think.  i think it was Jack Swigert that came up and said “Jim, I’ve been thinking, we might be exceeding escape velocity,”  I said that free return course should guarantee us a passage through the atmosphere and safe landing.  Let me explain that you have to enter the atmosphere in a 2 degree pie shaped wedge,with respect to the atmosphere.  If you come in too shallow, you’ll skip out like skimming stones across a pond, if too steep, the sudden deceleration will make you fiery for a few milliseconds and that would be it.

I said to Jack, don’t worry, we have it made.  I was wrong.   The ground was tracking us now and told us we were no longer on the free return, course we’d probably miss the atmosphere by at least 60 nautical miles.  I said thanks a lot, we’d turned off everything, we were flying by the seat of our pants.  they asked me to remember my flight on Apollo 8, we looked at emergency procedures and especially the last one if everything else failed, I’d helped to developed it.  They said we were going to have to use it now.  What that consisted of was for to somehow manually maneuver the spacecraft around without the help of an autopilot, get the Earth in the window of the lunar module, you’ve all seen the Earth from space, daylight, darkness, that line between the two we call the terminator.  In the module of the lunar module I had a gun sight, a cross-hair, if I could somehow maneuver the spacecraft around to superimpose the horizontal line of sight on the gun-sight on the Earth’s terminator, that would then place the engine in a position to steepen of shallow that angle.

Jack Swigert's Omega Speedmaster. 14 seconds later Jack said "stop"
Jack Swigert’s Omega Speedmaster.
14 seconds later Jack said “stop”

I said to Jack that even the clock is not running you have a wristwatch, you tell me when to light the engine, you tell me when to turn them off.  Fred Haise was sick now, but I said to him when that engine comes on, to help stabilize the vehicle, to stop the Earth from going up and down to much with my primary manoeuvre handle, the back up you take and stop sideways too much.  I had on my console 2 buttons, one said start and the other one said stop.  Probably the only time they were ever used, it was a direct electrical link between the battery and the engine.  When he said start, I hit the start button, the engine came on, I jockeyed vertically, Fred jockeyed horizontally and then 14 seconds later Jack said stop, we stopped the engine and waited for the ground to track us to see if we came in for a safe landing.

I have with me now some highlights of that flight (video plays), we made it for congress in 1970:

  • That’s our Saturn V, one of the tragedies of our spacecraft is not to keep doing these vehicles after Apollo, perfect for putting more mass to the ISS.
  • That’s Fred Haise as you probably saw previously, getting suited up…
  • That’s Jack Swigert, probably still figuring out how he got on that flight
  • Werner Von Braun was instrumental in designing this vehicle, those fins are his kind of signature, we can control, the vehicle by gimbaling those 4 engines, much like the V2 which needed fins.
  • Burning fuel now at about 15 tonnes per second 0- about as much as my ’73 Chevrolet did…
  • Jack Swigert is guiding the probe to dock the vehicles, he was a very confident pilot although the movie made him look like he had to earn his wings every day.
  • The interior of the lunar module looks bigger than it really is, that’s because of the wide angle lens
  • Back in the control centre, things are different now, all kinds of contractors now
  • That’s Ken Mattingly, he never got the measles…
  • We were being poisoned by our own exhalation , Carbon Dioxide was building up, we had canisters to remove but in the lunar module we had round ones and in the command module we had square ones, we sued duct tape, an old sock, a piece of plastic to jury rig a square lithium hydroxide canister to a round one.  Ingenuity and initiative came through.
  • Fred’s looking out the window, you can put your thumb up there and you can hide the Earth completely and realise what we really have here.
  • That’s Fred Haise trying to sleep, he has one hand in his blouse. The reason he does that is because on an earlier flight, Pete Conrad was flying in a completely darkened spacecraft, he looked and saw this strange eye staring at him, he thought maybe there is something to these ET’s and UFO’s, turns out his arm had drifted up and it was the luminous  dial on his wristwatch.  That’s how these stories get started…
  • The last crisis of this flight was those 3 parachutes, the pyrotechnics had been so cold for 4 days, if they didn’t fire the chutes would not have come out and we;d have hit the water as such a speed it wouldn’t be survivable.
  • Some 55 countries offered us water recovery assistance, even countries like Paraguay, Czechoslovakia – they don’t even have coastlines!
  • There we are talking to the President, then I’m talking to my wife, Fred is talking to his wife Mary, Jack Swigert was also a bachelor, probably talking to every single steward on Eastern Airlines…
Apollo 13 splashdown
Apollo 13 splashdown

I often wondered what would have happened if Apollo 13 was successful, if there was no explosion, we landed on the moon, picked up some rocks, said some forgettable words and got back safely with 7 successful lunar landings.  The history of Apollo 13 would have been swept into the dustbin of space history and I wouldn’t be here probably.  But for years I was very much disappointed, frustrated that I could not land on the moon, this was the end of my active space career.  But after the years came by, we wrote a book, Lost Moon, then Apollo 13, I thought to myself, if we had landed on the moon, there would be no “Houston, we’ve had a problem” or “Failure is not an option.”  It brings out what people can do when there is a crisis, it finally dawned on me that the best thing could have had happened in our space program at that particular time was to have an explosion like this, that brought up various things, how talented people are, an almost certain catastrophe back to a safe landing. Let me leave you with an old saying I’ve heard “there are 3 types of people in this world, there are people that make things happen, there are people that watch things happen and there are people who wonder what just happened.” Back in April 1970, those people in Mission Control were the group that made things happen.  Thank you.”

Commander Jim Lovell reads a newspaper account of the safe recovery of Apollo 13
Commander Jim Lovell reads a newspaper account of the safe recovery of Apollo 13

Jim Lovell has given a great presentation followed by a Q & A session by Professor Brian Cox. Followed up with a signature of “Earthrise.”  Another great event from www.space-lectures.com, keep up the great work. Next up in April is Apollo 17 Commander, Captain Eugene Cernan: The Last Man on the Moon.

 

You may also like some of their other events I’ve attended:

Space Shuttle astronaut Eileen Collins

Meeting Fred Haise from Apollo 13

Meeting Ken Mattingly

Meeting the Moonwalker Alan Bean

 

Nick Cook

Amateur astronomer, space, history, nerd, extreme dog walker, cat slave, doorstep daytripper, severe tinnitus sufferer. 13.7 billion years in the making - not that much better for it. Knows more about swords than is probably healthy for a man.

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