Apollo 13 Disaster : Jim Lovell : Background of an Astronaut
Apollo 13 Disaster. Jim Lovell entered the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1946 under the Naval Aviation College Program (also known as the “Flying Midshipman Program”).
The program entailed a seven-year commitment that involved two years of study at a college or university, followed by three years of flight training and active duty (during which the midshipmen would be promoted to ensign after two years), followed by a return to the college to finish schooling and retain eligibility for a commission.
As Lovell entered pre-flight training in 1948, the Navy’s budget had been dramatically cut and those in the program were being urged to get out, as there was a likelihood that no flying billets would be available (the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 changed that). Instead, Lovell applied to and was accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy, entering in 1948 with the Class of 1952.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree and being commissioned, Ensign Lovell commenced flight training at Pensacola, Florida, in October 1952.
He was designated a naval aviator on 1 February 1954, and was assigned to All-Weather Fighter Squadron 3 (VC-3, later re-designated VF[AW]-3 in 1956) at NAS Moffett Field, flying F2H-3 Banshee jet night fighters(pictured above). Lovett deployed with a squadron detachment to the western Pacific aboard carrier Shangri-La (CVA-38), the second carrier converted to an angled-deck configuration, which enabled much safer operation of jet aircraft. He then provided instruction for pilots transitioning to the new F3H Demon jet fighter.
In January 1958, Lieutenant Lovell entered the test pilot training course at Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland, graduating first in his class six months later, ahead of future astronauts Pete Conrad and Wally Schirra. Later in 1958, all three would be selected to be part of a pool of 110 military test pilots selected as potential astronauts for the Mercury Project.
Schirra would subsequently be selected for the “Mercury Seven,” but Lovell and Conrad were not. Lieutenant Lovell continued with test pilot duties and then was assigned to the NAS Patuxent River Electronics Test (later Weapons Test), where he became an F4H (later F-4B Phantom II) project pilot. In 1961, Lovell received orders to Fighter Squadron 101 (VF-101) Detachment Alpha as a flight instructor and safety engineer, when NASA put out a call for a second group of astronauts to serve in the Gemini and Apollo programs.
Lovell re-applied and, in 1962, was selected, along with Conrad, as part of the “New Nine” astronauts to augment the original “Mercury Seven.”
Lovell’s fourth space mission (the most by any astronaut to that point) was as mission commander for Apollo 13, intended to be the third lunar landing and the next one after the “All Navy” (Conrad, Gordon, and Bean) Apollo 12 landing in November 1969.
The command module (Odyssey) pilot for Apollo 13 was initially Lieutenant Commander Thomas K. Mattingly, Jr., but he was replaced. Due to an inadvertent exposure to German measles (Mattingly had no immunity) by Jack L. Swigert, Jr., who had an Air Force background.
The lunar module (Aquarius) pilot was Fred W. Haise, Jr., who had been a U.S. Marine Corps pilot before getting out of the service. Later he joined the Air National Guard and became an Air Force pilot.
Apollo 13 lifted off on 11 April 1970.
At a distance of 180,000 miles from Earth, a fire ignited in an oxygen tank in the service module, most likely caused by damaged electrical insulation that sparked.
The liquid oxygen turned into high-pressure gas that burst the tank, blew a large hole in the service module and caused a leak in a second oxygen tank. After Swigert made the initial report, Lovell followed up moments later with “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” (The later movie misquotes this; “Failure is not an option” is also a Hollywood creation.)
Within two hours all onboard oxygen was lost.
Which disabled the hydrogen fuel cells that provided electrical power to the command and service modules. The crew moved into the lunar module. Which had independent battery power, oxygen, and propulsion. Moreover, it would essentially serve as a “lifeboat.”
At this point, the sole objective of the mission was to get the astronauts back safely to Earth; the planned moon landing was aborted.
As there was no way to “turn around,”. The only way for the astronauts to get back to Earth was to continue to the moon. And use the lunar module’s propulsion and the moon’s gravity to slingshot around the moon. On a trajectory back to Earth.
The extent of damage to the service module was not fully known by either the Apollo 13 crew or Mission Control in Houston.
This resulted in numerous technical challenges in getting the astronauts back that would later make a great movie (Lovell considered his portrayal by Tom Hank in Apollo 13 pretty accurate).
One result of the trajectory was that Apollo 13 reached a point in space that is farther from the Earth (137 nautical miles beyond the moon). Than anyone has else has travelled.
The return to Earth required two sensitive manual course adjustments. In order to give the capsule the best chance of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
The severity of the damage became apparent when the service module separated from the command module a few hours before re-entry.
Concern for the astronauts’ safety literally gripped the Earth. Pope Paul VI offered prayers. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution asking all U.S. businesses to observe a simultaneous pause. So that employees could pray for the astronauts.
Over 40 million Americans (about one out of five at the time) tuned in to the live TV. Broadcast by all three networks of the re-entry and splash- down of the capsule. Which was touch and go even through the entry into the atmosphere.
Apollo 13 splashed down safely on 17 April in the South Pacific, southeast of American Samoa, only 3.5 miles from the recovery ship, Iwo Jima (LPH-2), after a mission duration of 5 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds. The whole nation breathed a sigh of relief. In addition, President Nixon quickly awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Apollo 13 crew.
Jim Lovell retired from the space program and the U.S. Navy in March 1973 with the rank of captain. Lovell was one of only 24 men to travel to the moon.
He was one of only three men to travel to the moon twice; however, unlike John Young and Eugene Cernan (both naval aviators).
Lovell never set foot on the surface.
His cumulative 715 total hours in space (269 sunrises) was a record that stood until Skylab 3 in July–September 1973.
With the rest of the Apollo 13 crew, he still holds the record for the farthest distance from Earth. He is still alive and well today at 92.