Retired astronaut Jim Lovell spoke at the Hulman Center Wednesday night as part of the Indiana State University Speaker Series.
Lovell lived in the Edgewood Grove neighborhood of Terre Haute from 1939-'40 and remembers spending time at Camp Krietenstein while he was a Boy Scout.
Selected in 1962 for the space program, Lovell was involved in the Gemini Mission Program and served as a back-up pilot for Gemini 4, pilot of the Gemini 7, back-up commander for Gemini 9 and commander of Gemini 12. At the completion of the program Lovell served as pilot of the command module and navigator for Apollo 8, the first voyage to the moon. He went on the be the back-up commander to Neil Armstrong for the Apollo 11 mission. His last flight was with the Apollo 13 in 1970.
Lovell's speech opened with a clip from Apollo 13 and he quickly apologized because he thought many people thought Tom Hanks, who played Lovell in the movie, was going to be speaking. He explained that the idea for a book based on the Apollo 13 mission came from all three of the astronauts on the flight; Lovell, Fred Hayes and Jack Swaggert. The book, "Lost Moon", was chronicled by Lovell and Jeff Klugerin 1994. The book was sold to the movies before it was even written and Universal decided to snatch it up when they found out Ron Howard had Tom Hanks lined-up as to play Lovell. "Apollo 13" was released a year later. Lovell has also appeared in several portions of Hanks' documentary for HBO "From the Earth to the Moon."
Lovell described the mission, nicknamed the successful failure, as not a scientific expedition but a technical challenge to prove that America could send a man to the moon and bring him home safely before the end of the decade. It was the 13th mission set for the 13th hour on the 13th day.
"Right then I should've known something was going to happen," Lovell says.
During the flight of the Apollo 13, two of the three fuel cells died and the crew knew that if one fuel cell was lost a landing on the moon was out of the question. Lovell felt a wave of disappointment after the discovery. Lovell described the feeling as, "You know that searing sensation you get when you are in deep trouble and you don't know how to get out of it?"
The crew was 200,000 miles from Earth and going in the wrong direction at the time and mission control had to devise a plan that would allow the astronauts to re-enter Earth in a two-person lunar module with three people and get them headed in the correct direction. The control center advised the crew to light the decent engine to speed-up travel and bring them to the far side of the moon and closer to Earth. Then the crew had to thread themselves into 2-degree wedge to re-enter safely. If they overshot it, they would skip out of the atmosphere. The crew the craft manually in order to get a clear view of Earth in the module's window in order to land in the small wedge. It worked because Lovell, Swaggert and Hayes touched down in the Pacific Ocean and landed where they should have on a normal flight only they were a few days early.
He said that from this mission he learned something in space that he took back to Earth and that is to always expect the unexpected.
"Failure is not an option," he states.
Lovell says the moral of this story is that considering all the circumstances he shouldn't even be alive and that he is here today because of a dedicated group of people in Houston.
He ended his speech by narrating a film of the mission's highlights that was created for congress in 1970 and a short question and answer period with the audience.
From his role on the Apollo 13 he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the French Foreign Legion of Honor, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and two Navy Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired from the Navy and the space program in 1973.
Lovell is now the president of Lovell Communications, a business dedicated to distributing knowledge about the U.S. Space Program.