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James Lovell
Born March 25, 1928(1928-03-25) (age 94)
Place of birth Cleveland, Ohio
Rank Captain, USN

James "Jim" Arthur Lovell, Jr., (born March 25, 1928) is a former NASA astronaut and a retired captain in the United States Navy. He is most famous for being the commander of the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely to Earth by the efforts of the crew and Mission Control. Lovell was also the command module pilot of Apollo 8, the first Apollo mission to enter lunar orbit. Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.

Youth and education

Born in Cleveland, Ohio to a Czech mother, Lovell's family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Juneau High School and became an Eagle Scout.[1][2][3][4] His father died in a car accident when Lovell was young and, for about two years, he resided with a relative in Terre Haute, Indiana.

As a boy Lovell was interested in rocketry, and built flying models.[5]

He later attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison for two years, joining the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. He continued on to the United States Naval Academy and, after graduating in 1952, entered the United States Navy.

Lovell married Marilyn Gerlach the same year he graduated. They have four children: Barbara (born in 1953), James (1955), Susan (1958), and Jeffrey (1966).

United States Navy

Upon completion of pilot training Lovell served at sea flying F2H Banshee night fighters. In January 1958, he entered a six-month test pilot training course at what was then known as the Naval Air Test Center (now the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland (often called simply Pax River), along with Charles (Peter) Conrad and Wally Schirra. Lovell graduated first in his class.[5]

Later that year, Lovell, Conrad and Schirra became three of 110 military test pilots selected as potential astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. Schirra went on to become one of the Mercury Seven, but Lovell and Conrad failed to make the cut for medical reasons: Lovell because of a temporarily high bilirubin count in his blood,[5] and Conrad for refusing to take the second round of highly invasive medical tests. Lovell continued for four years at Pax River, using the call sign "Shaky", a nickname given him by Conrad.[6]

NASA career

Lovell's official NASA portrait from 1966

In 1962, NASA put out a call for a second group of astronauts for the Gemini and Apollo programs. Lovell applied again, and this time was accepted into NASA Astronaut Group 2 along with Conrad and seven other men.

Gemini program

Lovell and Buzz Aldrin on the deck of their recovery ship after Gemini 12

Lovell was selected as backup Pilot for Gemini 4, which put him in position for his first space flight three missions later as Pilot of Gemini 7 with Command Pilot Frank Borman in December 1965. This flight set an endurance record of fourteen days in space, and also was the target vehicle for the first space rendezvous with Gemini 6A.

Lovell was later scheduled to be the backup Command Pilot of Gemini 10, but after the deaths of the Gemini 9 prime crew Elliot See and Charles Bassett, he replaced Thomas P. Stafford as backup commander of Gemini 9A. This change positioned Lovell for his second flight, and first command, of Gemini 12 in November 1966 with Pilot Buzz Aldrin.

Lovell's two Gemini flights gave him more time in space than any other person as of 1966.

Apollo program

Apollo 8

Lovell at the Command Module Guidance and Navigation station during the Apollo 8 mission.

Lovell was originally chosen as Command Module Pilot (CMP) on the backup crew for Apollo 9, planned as a high-apogee Earth orbital test of the Lunar Module, along with Neil Armstrong as Commander and Buzz Aldrin as Lunar Module Pilot (LMP). This changed when Lovell replaced Michael Collins as CMP on the Apollo 9 prime crew, reuniting him with his Gemini 7 commander Frank Borman, and LMP William Anders, when Collins needed to have surgery for a bone spur on his spine.[7]

This changed again when delays in the construction of the first manned lunar module (LM) prevented it from being ready in time to fly on Apollo 8, planned as a low Earth orbit test. NASA decided to swap the Apollo 8 and Apollo 9 prime and backup crews in the flight schedule so that the crew trained for the low-orbit test could fly it as Apollo 9, when the LM would be ready. The original Apollo 9 medium Earth orbit test became a lunar orbital flight, now Apollo 8. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were launched on December 21, 1968, becoming the first men to travel to the Moon.

As CMP Lovell served as the navigator, using the spacecraft's built-in sextant to determine its position by measuring star positions. This information was used to calculate required mid-course corrections. The craft entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve and made a total of ten orbits, most of them circular at an altitude of approximately 70 miles (110 km), for a total of twenty hours. They broadcast black-and-white television pictures of the lunar surface back to Earth, and Lovell took his turn with Borman and Anders in reading a passage from the Biblical creation story in the Book of Genesis.

They began their return to Earth on Christmas Day with a rocket burn made on the Moon's far side, out of radio contact with Earth. (For this reason, the lunar orbital insertion and trans-Earth injection burns were the two most tense moments of this first lunar mission.) When contact was re-established, Lovell was the first to announce the good news, calling down to Houston: "Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus." The crew splashed down safely on Earth December 27.

Apollo 13

Lovell reads newspaper account of Apollo 13's safe return aboard recovery vessel USS Iwo Jima.

Lovell was backup commander of Apollo 11 and was scheduled to command Apollo 14, but he and his crew swapped missions with the crew of Apollo 13 as it was felt the commander of the other crew, Alan Shepard, needed more time to train after having been grounded for a long period. Lovell lifted off aboard Apollo 13 on April 11, 1970, with CMP Jack Swigert and LMP Fred Haise. He and Haise were to land on the Moon while Swigert remained in lunar orbit.

But on April 13, while in Earth-Moon transit, a damaged heater coil in a cryogenic oxygen tank sparked during a routine tank stir. This quickly turned liquid oxygen into gas with a huge increase in pressure, which burst the tank and damaged a second tank, resulting in the loss of all stored oxygen in just over two hours. This disabled the fuel cell-driven electrical power system, crippling the Command/Service Module "Odyssey" and requiring immediate abort of the landing mission; the goal of the mission became safely returning to Earth.

Using the LM as a "life boat" providing power, oxygen and propulsion, Lovell and his crew immediately re-established the free return trajectory that they had left, and swung around the Moon to return home. Based on calculations made on Earth, Lovell had to adjust the course two times by manually controlling the Lunar Module's thrusters and engine, using his watch for timing. Apollo 13 returned safely to Earth on April 17. Lovell is one of only three men to travel to the Moon twice, but unlike John Young and Eugene Cernan, he never walked on it.

Lovell accrued over 715 hours, and had seen a total of 269 sunrises from space on his Gemini and Apollo flights. This was a personal record that stood until the Skylab 3 mission in July through September 1973.[8] It is also probable that Apollo 13's flight trajectory gives Lovell, Haise, and Swigert the record for the farthest distance that humans have ever travelled from Earth.[9]

Later career

He retired from the Navy and the space program in 1973 and went to work at the Bay-Houston Towing Company in Houston, Texas, becoming CEO in 1975. He became president of Fisk Telephone Systems in 1977, and later worked for Centel, retiring as an executive vice president on January 1, 1991. Lovell, a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award,[10] later served as the President of the National Eagle Scout Association in the mid-1990s. He was also recognized by the Boy Scouts of America with their prestigious Silver Buffalo Award.

Along with Jeffrey Kluger, Lovell wrote a book about the Apollo 13 mission, Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13.[5] This book was the basis for the later Ron Howard movie, Apollo 13. Lovell's first impression on being approached about the film was that Kevin Costner would be a good choice to portray him, given the physical resemblance,[11] but Tom Hanks was cast in the role. In order to prepare, Hanks visited Lovell and his wife at their house in Texas and even went for a ride with Lovell in his private airplane.

In the film, Lovell has a cameo as the captain of the USS Iwo Jima, the naval vessel that led the operation to recover the Apollo 13 astronauts after their successful splashdown. Lovell can be seen as the naval officer shaking Hanks' hand, as Hanks speaks in voice-over, in the scene in which the astronauts come aboard the Iwo Jima. Filmmakers initially offered to make Lovell's character an admiral aboard the ship (presumably Rear Admiral Donald C. Davis, Commander Task Force 130 (CTF 130), who was the senior officer aboard and welcomed them home). However, Lovell stated "I retired as a Captain and a Captain I will be", and thus he was cast as the ship's skipper, Captain Leland E. Kirkemo.[12] Along with his wife Marilyn, who has a cameo in the film as well, he also provided a commentary track on both the single disc and the two-disc special edition DVD.

Jim Lovell (fourth from right in the middle row) visits with U.S. Air Force members during a March 2010 USO stop in Southwest Asia. Seated next to him on the right are Gene Cernan and Neil Armstrong, respectively.

In 1999 Lovell, along with his family, opened "Lovell's of Lake Forest", a fine dining restaurant in Lake Forest, Illinois. The restaurant displays many artifacts from Lovell's time with NASA, as well as from the filming of Apollo 13. Lovell's son James "Jay" Lovell III is the executive chef.[13]

Lovell also visits colleges and universities where he gives speeches on his experiences as an astronaut and businessman. He strongly urges students to get involved in science and the space program and he credits NASA in the 1960s with bringing much of the country together for a common goal.

In 2006, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago opened its "Shoot for the Moon" exhibit based on the life of Jim Lovell, along with the Gemini and Apollo programs; the exhibit features his Gemini 12 spacecraft and an extensive collection of his personal space artifacts. Many of his mementos and spacesuit elements have long been displayed at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, along with his Apollo command module.


A small crater on the urface f the Moon is named Lovell in his honor.[14]

North James Lovell Street is the stretch of 7th Street between W. State Street and W. Clybourn Street in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[15][16]

Discovery World in Milwaukee was also named The James Lovell Museum of Science, Economics and Technology. It was located on James Lovell St., also named for Lovell.[17]

The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center was completed in October 2010, merging the Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes and the North Chicago Veterans Affairs Medical Center [18]

Lovell Place is a street in the North Harbour Industrial estate on the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand. The streets are named after Apollo and early Shuttle astronauts

Formal education

Awards and decorations

Lovell's awards and decorations include:[19][20][21]

Military, federal service, and foreign awards

En-NavAstro.jpg Naval Astronaut Badge
Naval Aviator Badge.jpg Naval Aviator Badge
Gold star
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with Gold Award Star
Gold star
Distinguished Flying Cross with Gold Award Star
Air Medal
Navy Commendation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Navy Expeditionary Medal
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Congressional Space Medal of Honor
NASA Distinguished Service Medal
NASA Exceptional Service Medal
Legion of Honour (France; unknown grade)

Other awards and accomplishments

  • Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America) (1946) and Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (1976)
  • Silver Buffalo (Boy Scouts of America) (1992)
  • Harmon International Trophy (1966, 1967, and 1969)
  • Alpha Phi Omega Fall Pledge Class Namesake (1967)
  • Robert J. Collier Trophy (1968)
  • Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy (1969)
  • Henry H. Arnold Trophy (1969)
  • General Thomas D. White USAF Space Trophy (1969)
  • Awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree at William Paterson College's commencement exercises (June 15, 1974)
  • NASA Ambassadors of Exploration Award
  • Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) De Laval Medal & Gold Space Medals
  • National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal
  • Space Foundation's General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award (2003)
  • In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Lovell was ranked as the #4 most popular space hero [22]
  • Fellow in the Society of Experimental Test Pilots
  • Time Magazine Person of the Year (1968; with Apollo 8 Astronauts Frank Borman and William Anders)
  • Cover of Time Magazine on 3 January 1969 and 27 April 1970 [23]
  • Cover of Life Magazine on 24 April 1970 [24]
  • United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, March 19, 1993 [25]

In media

About a month after the return to Earth of Apollo 13, Lovell and his crewmates, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, appeared on The Tonight Show with host Johnny Carson. The introduction of this segment of the show is featured on "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13" on the single disk DVD version of the movie.

In 1976, Lovell made a cameo appearance in the Nicolas Roeg movie The Man Who Fell to Earth.

In 1995, actor Tom Hanks portrayed Lovell in the hit movie Apollo 13, based on Lovell's book Lost Moon. Lovell himself makes a cameo in this movie, playing the captain of the USS Iwo Jima at the end of the film.

In 1998, actor Tim Daly portrayed Lovell in portions of the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. The film depicts Lovell during his missions aboard Gemini 12, Apollo 8, and Apollo 13, though he is not seen on screen during the latter mission.

Lovell is one of the astronauts featured in the book and documentaries In the Shadow of the Moon and When We Left Earth.

On November 13, 2008, Lovell and fellow Apollo 8 crew members Frank Borman and Bill Anders appeared on the NASA TV channel to discuss the Apollo 8 mission. The three former astronauts later appeared together for a panel discussion centering on Apollo 8 at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library on April 23, 2009, a discussion that was videotaped by C-SPAN.[26]

The Bio Channel documentary on Ron Howard mistakenly refers to Lovell as "John Lovell" when discussing Howard's film Apollo 13.


  1. "Collecting the Final Frontier: Ohio Historical Society's Collections Blog". 
  2. "Newsletter Spring 2000: Notable Americans with Czech Roots". Archived from the original on 2008-01-23. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  3. Townley, Alvin (26 December 2006). Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influence of America's Eagle Scouts. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 80–86. ISBN 0-312-36653-1. 
  4. Ray, Mark (2007). "What It Means to Be an Eagle Scout". Scouting Magazine. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2007-01-05. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Lovell, Jim; Kluger, Jeffrey (1995). Apollo 13: Lost Moon. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-53464-5. 
  6. Wolfe, Tom (1979). The Right Stuff. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-312-42756-6. OCLC 173092241. 
  7. Selecting and Training Crews. NASA History.
  8. The Skylab 3 crew spent 1427 hours in space, in addition to commander Alan Bean's over 244 hours on Apollo 12, giving him the second record.
  9. Salgado, José Francisco (30 June 2006). "Captain James A. Lovell, Jr. Timeline" (PDF). Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-11-27. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  10. "Distinguished Eagle Scouts". Retrieved 2010-11-04. 
  11. "Apollo 13: 2-Disc Anniversary Edition (Disc 1), Special Features:Commentary track by Jim and Marilyn Lovell". Universal Studios. 2005-03-19. 
  12. "NASA photographic archive". Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  13. "Lovells of Lake Forest". Lovells of Lake Forest. Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  14. "Lovell (crater) : Who, What, Where, When". Retrieved December 3, 2012. 
  15. "Jim Lovell". Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  16. "north james lovell street - Google Maps". 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  17. Hintz, Martin (2000). Wisconsin Portraits: 55 People who Made a Difference. Big Earth Publishing. p. 91. ISBN 9780915024803. OCLC 44508414. Retrieved August 27, 2013. "Discovery World, next to the Milwaukee Public Museum, is also named the James Lovell Museum of Science, Economics and Technology. The former astronaut attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1996. A the same time, Milwaukee's 7th Street outside the museum was renamed James Lovell Street." 
  18. Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, North Chicago, Illinois. "Lovell Federal Health Care Center". Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  19. James A. Lovell - NASA Biographical Data
  20. Jim Lovell - Astronaut - Short Biographies
  21. International Space Hall of Fame - New Mexico Museum of Space History
  22. "Space Foundation Survey Reveals Broad Range of Space Heroes". 
  23. iPad iPhone Android TIME TV Populist The Page. "Time Magazine covers: Jim Lovell". Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  24. "Life Magazine cover: Jim Lovell". Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  25. Lovell USAHoF[dead link]
  26. "C-SPAN Apollo 8 Reunion". 2009-04-23. Retrieved 2013-06-09. 

External links