13 Stories with Captain James Lovell

50 years ago, the crew of Apollo 13 were on their way to the Moon when a major accident occurred. Instead of walking on the Moon, crew members Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert had to work together to return to Earth alive. See objects on display at the Adler Planetarium from Apollo and earlier Gemini missions, in addition, you can hear Lovell share his memories and stories about these amazing journeys (Audio transcript including on final slide)

Statue of Captain Jim LovellAdler Planetarium

Behind my thumb, over 3 billion people

This sculpture at the Adler Planetarium shows a moment during Apollo 13 when Lovell looked back at home. Hear Lovell describe the feeling of being so far away from home that he could cover the entire Earth with his thumb.

NASA Rejection LetterAdler Planetarium

Try, try again

Even space heroes sometimes encounter difficulties. The first time Lovell applied to the astronaut program, NASA sent this letter informing him he was not accepted. Hear Lovell describe his reaction to being turned down, and how he responded.

Fecal collection bagAdler Planetarium

How do you go to the bathroom?

It’s the question everyone asks. For the Gemini flights in 1965-1966 astronauts used this type of fecal containment bag, which is exactly what it sounds like. Lovell spent two weeks in orbit with Frank Borman in the spacecraft. Hear Lovell describe the procedure for taking care of our most basic needs.

Close Up of the Gemini 12 Space CapsuleAdler Planetarium

Making the flight

Flights crews sometimes changed, and early space explorers needed to be prepared to go. Hear Lovell describe how he got to fly on the Gemini 12 mission. That spacecraft is seen here at the Adler Planetarium.

Gemini 12 Space CapsuleAdler Planetarium

Coming home after paving the way to the Moon

Gemini 12 was the final flight of the Gemini program, paving the way for the moon landings. Hear Lovell describe what it was like to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere at the end of the mission.

Apollo 8 flight plan, volume 1Adler Planetarium

A broadcast from lunar orbit

The Apollo 8 mission in December 1968 was the first time humans approached another world. In orbit around the Moon, Lovell and his crewmates Frank Borman and Bill Anders spoke to the world on Christmas Eve. To mark the occasion they chose to read the first ten verses of the Bible. Shown here is the page in a flight plan that they read from during that broadcast. You can see pencil marks indicating when each astronaut passed the pages to another crew member. Hear Lovell describe how the idea came together and its lasting impact.

EarthriseAdler Planetarium

The picture that changed the world

One of the most famous photographs ever taken, this image from Apollo 8 became an icon of the space age and changed how people thought about Earth. Hear Lovell explain how the team was in position to capture this amazing view of the Earth rising over the Moon.

Apollo 13 CSM malfunction manualAdler Planetarium

Emergency on Apollo 13

During the flight of Apollo 13, a major explosion called off lunar landing plans and threatened the crew’s lives. One of their challenges was constructing a carbon dioxide filter using whatever was available. Lovell describes how the crew made a fix using parts including the cover torn off this flight manual. He also describes how the timing of the accident was fortunate.

Apollo 13 sightAdler Planetarium

Aiming for Earth

This optical sight could be mounted in different windows on the Apollo spacecraft, and allowed an astronaut to point the spacecraft by looking through the clear window at the bottom. Lovell used this sight to aim the Apollo 13 spacecraft during a rocket thrust on the return trip, successfully guiding the spacecraft back home.

Apollo 13 plaqueAdler Planetarium

Memento for the Moon

This plaque was intended to be placed on the leg of the lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. Instead, Lovell brought it back to Earth where it can now be seen at the Adler Planetarium.

Apollo 13 helmetAdler Planetarium

Suited for Space

This was Lovell’s helmet meant to be worn on the lunar surface during Apollo 13. Hear Lovell describe the designs on the helmet and why he brought it back to Earth.

Mount Marilyn MapAdler Planetarium

A mount named Marilyn

The Apollo crews noticed many landmarks on the surface of the Moon. Hear Lovell describe how he saw a prominent Moon mountain and informally named it “Mount Marilyn” after his wife. In 2018 this feature was officially named Mount Marilyn.

Captain Jim Lovell in ConversationAdler Planetarium

A Positive Attitude

Lovell describes how big successes require hard work and a positive attitude.

Credits: Story

On November 20, 2019, Adler Planetarium staff interviewed Captain Jim Lovell (who flew on Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8, & Apollo 13) about his memories and thoughts looking back at his exciting career. What proceeded were his own words. For those who are audio impaired or would appreciate the ability to read the audio clips of Captain Lovell they are available on the following Google Document:


The Adler Planetarium thanks the following sponsors for their support in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 13:
CNA Insurance
John & Cathie Estey
William & Claudia Gruber, United Financial of Illinois, Inc.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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