Apollo 13 crew arrive on the prime recovery ship U.S.S. Iwo Jima following the ocean landing and rescue in the South Pacific. Exiting the helicopter are (from left) Fred Haise, mission Commander James Lovell and John Swigert. Click to Enlarge. Credit: NASA

By Eric Eckstrom/Medill News Service

Even after more than four decades since the aborted Apollo 13 lunar mission, Navy Captain James Lovell said there are some memories you can never forget.

Lovell’s heroism helped save him and his crew after an oxygen tank exploded some 200,000 miles from earth on April 13, 1970.

Tuesday April 17 2012 marks the 42nd Anniversary of when Apollo 13 successfully landed in the Pacific Ocean after malfunctioning on its journey to the moon. Lovell said he distinctly remembers the moment everything went wrong.

“The explosion is something that is burnt into my brain and then the slow realization about what had happened,” he said.

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Lovell, mission commander, and astronauts John Swigert and Fred Haise made up the crew. After the oxygen tank exploded, the craft experienced problems with oxygen levels, electricity, lighting, and water.

Although the lunar landing was aborted, the crew continued toward the moon and circled it so its gravity could provide a slingshot effect for the return to Earth. The crew used the attached lunar module “Aquarius” as a lifeboat during the return.

It was an event that gripped the nation as the crew in the crippled spacecraft struggled to return home with barely enough power.

“Nobody believes me, but during this six-day odyssey we had no idea what an impression Apollo 13 made on the people of Earth. We never dreamed a billion people were following us on television and radio and reading about us,” Lovell said in a written account after the landing.

Amid a tremendous quagmire of logistical and safety issues, the crew landed in the Pacific Ocean on April 17th.

Lovell said that dealing with the immense pressure and fear in the moments between the explosion and the landing was accomplished by keeping a focused mindset.

“We had to have a positive attitude. In reality there was no other thing we could do,” he said.

Despite such heroic actions, Lovell ultimately recounts his involvement with humility.

“I was at the right time with the right credentials,” he said.

The Apollo 13 adventure was given new life in 1995 with the release of the movie, “Apollo 13,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard. The film was based on Lovell’s book, “Apollo 13: Lost Moon.” Lovell, who was involved in its production, described the movie as “very accurate.”

“Everyone was happy with the result,” he said.

Michelle Nichols, master educator at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, said the film changed the complexion of how the event was understood by the public.

“It was considered by a whole lot of people as a failure until the Apollo 13 movie. Due to the movie, people started seeing it as a success in disguise,” Nichols said.

Only five “manned” moon landings have been successfully executed since Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin famously touched ground in 1969. Nearly 40 years have passed since the last one and questions regarding NASA’s future have been posed with greater regularity. Lovell said that change is needed.

“In the older astronaut crowd, we think the way the president is going about the space program is all wrong,” Lovell said. “We should revise our space program to be more dynamic. We don’t have any goals set on what to do.”

Lovell said the issues facing NASA are deeper than mere funding. He said he sees a lack of psychological connection to space exploration compared to what once existed.

“It used to be that the space program was something to look up to and something to be proud of, and now we don’t have that,” he said.

Nichols, however, said that current state of NASA is greatly under appreciated.

“NASA is not dead,” Nichols said. “We are definitely still training astronauts and [building] rockets, and we need more press coverage to get the word out.”

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: Eric Eckstrom/Medill News Service; http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=204306

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