One of NASA’s best-known astronauts from the moon mission era was in Omaha/Council Bluffs last night. Jim Lovell was commander of the doomed Apollo 13 flight, which had an oxygen tank explode two days into a trip to the moon, crippling the spacecraft far from home and threatening the lives of the three-man crew.
“The odds were against us in the beginning because we didn’t know really what was wrong or what was happening,” Lovell says. “Consequently, we were concerned until we tried to figure out what the story was. There wasn’t an immediate explosion that violated the integrity of the spacecraft so we still had some time to think about it.”
Engineers on the ground were able to instruct the astronauts in how to bring the badly-damaged ship home. The dramatic mission in April of 1970 was the subject of the 1995 film, “Apollo 13,” which starred Tom Hanks as Lovell. The events depicted in the Oscar-winning movie were very accurate, Lovell says, and he was an advisor for the film.
Lovell remains a huge supporter of the space program and hopes the U.S. will once again be a world leader in space exploration. “I think it was one of the greatest inspirations for improving technology in this country and the STEM (science, technology, education, math) education of our young people,” Lovell says.
“We won’t be a leader but I have to tell you, there will be other leaders, either Russia or China or even India.” Here is a clip from Lovell’s famous radio transmission during the Apollo 13 mission, shortly after the explosion.
Lovell was in Omaha to speak at an event sponsored by the Immanuel Foundation. His talk was called, “Apollo 13; A Successful Failure.” At age 85, Lovell still pilots his own airplane but his wife made him promise to get a co-pilot this year — or sell the plane.