I met Jim Lovell today!
Yes, Captain James Lovell of “Houston we have a problem” Apollo 13 fame!
I am not by any means a ‘space nerd’, but when I had the opportunity to shake the hand of the central character in perhaps the greatest human story of all time, I leapt at the chance.
We travelled to Pontefract (where a
group of volunteers periodically
organise @Space_Lectures) to listen to
Jim Lovell tell stories of his days as
a test pilot for the Phantom fighter plane, successful missions with the Gemini
programme, and of course his
miraculous Apollo 13 adventure.
Travelling at 6000 miles an hour in space between the Earth and the Moon, one of the Odessey’s oxygen tanks exploded! Without the oxygen or power needed to return to earth, or the use of their rudimentary computer to recalculate trajectories, or a working filter to prevent rising CO2, their safe return was surely impossible! While almost every country on the planet united in hope, the bravery and skill of the crew, and the ingenuity of a few dozen people, turned this potential tragedy into a happy ending.
Jim Lovell described his resolve to “not be an orbiting monument to the space programme”; to find a way through any and all of the problems the situation kept throwing at them; and, to work out a route back to the Earth. As his disappointment over not landing on the Moon gradually faded, Jim began to see this as perhaps the best thing that could have happened to NASA – to show how people could work together to overcome unknown risks and unforeseen events, and continue to rise to the challenges of space travel.
As they made it around the Moon, Jim Lovell held up his thumb to the window, obscuring the distant blue globe that comprised everything every human had ever known. He realised what a special and privileged place the Earth is – that we don’t go to heaven when we die – “we go to heaven when we are born”.
As we all now hurtle through space on our special and fragile planet, running out of fuel and with rising CO2, sea levels and average temperatures, “Failure is not an option!”. Surely we can draw on that same ingenuity and unity of purpose that saved those three astronauts and, with the added advantage of a billion times more computing power, rise to the challenges of global warming and keep our home safe? or will we continue on our way to creating an orbiting monument to the human age?