James Arthur Lovell Jr. (born March 25, 1928) is a former NASA astronaut and a retired captain in the United States Navy, most famous as 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.
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.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1928, Lovell was the only child of his mother Blanche, who was of Czech descent, and his father, who died in a car accident in 1933. For about two years, he and his mother resided with a relative in Terre Haute, Indiana. His mother then moved them to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Juneau High School and became an Eagle Scout.
As a child, Lovell was interested in rocketry, and built flying models. From the fall of 1946 to the spring of 1948, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years under the “Flying Midshipman” program, where he joined the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity.
While Lovell was attending pre-flight training in the summer of 1948, the Navy was beginning to make cutbacks in the program and cadets were under a great deal of pressure to transfer out. There were even worries that some or most of the pilots that graduated wouldn’t have pilot billets to fill. (This threat persisted until the later outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.) He applied and was accepted to attend the United States Naval Academy in the fall of 1948. He attended Annapolis for the full four years, graduating as an Ensign in the spring of 1952 with a B.S. degree. He then went to flight training at NAS Pensacola from October 1952 to February 1954.
Marriage and family
He married Marilyn Lillie Gerlach (b. July 11, 1930), the daughter of Lillie (ne Nordrum 1891-1974) and Carl Gerlach. The two were high-school sweethearts at Juneau High School in Milwaukee. Marilyn initially was hesitant about dating Jim because he was two years older than she, but the two became inseparable after their first date. She transferred from Wisconsin State Teachers College to George Washington University in Washington D.C. so she could be near him while he was training in Annapolis. They married after his graduation from the Naval Academy on June 6, 1952.
They have four children: Barbara (born in 1953), James (1955), Susan (1958), and Jeffrey (1966). Due to her husband often being absent from the home because of training and missions, Marilyn was in charge of taking care of their household and four children. Their home life during the Apollo 13 mission of 1970 was portrayed in the 1995 film Apollo 13. Actress Kathleen Quinlan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Marilyn Lovell.
In 1999 the Lovell 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. His son James “Jay” Lovell III was the executive chef. He sold the restaurant to Jay and his wife Darice in 2006. The Lovell family announced that the restaurant building and surrounding property was on the market in February 2014. The restaurant closed on April 12, 2015, and the property (but not the memorabilia) was auctioned on April 22, 2015.
United States Navy
Upon completion of pilot training Lovell served at sea flying F2H Banshee night fighters from 1954 to 1957. In January 1958, he entered a six-month test pilot training course at what was then the Naval Air Test Center (now the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, (also known as Pax River), along with Charles (Peter) Conrad and Wally Schirra. Lovell graduated first in his class.
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 and Conrad for refusing to take the second round of invasive medical tests. Lovell continued for four years at Pax River as a test pilot and instructor, using the call sign “Shaky”, a nickname given him by Conrad.
For NASA’s first selection of astronauts, the Mercury Seven, Lovell was not chosen as a member at first. In 1962 NASA needed a second group of astronauts for the Gemini and Apollo programs. Lovell applied again and, this time, was accepted into NASA Astronaut Group 2, (The New Nine) as was Conrad.
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. The flight’s objective was to evaluate the effects on the crew and spacecraft from fourteen days in orbit. This flight set an endurance record of fourteen days in space, made 206 orbits, 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 again positioned Lovell for his second flight and first command, of Gemini 12 in November 1966 with Pilot Buzz Aldrin. This flight had three extravehicular activities, made 59 orbits, and achieved the fifth space rendezvous and fourth space docking with an Agena target vehicle. This mission was successful because it proved that humans can effectively work outside of the spacecraft. This mission also paved the way for the Apollo missions, and helped reach the goal of getting man on the moon by the end of the decade.
Lovell was originally chosen as Command Module Pilot 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. Lovell later replaced Michael Collins as CMP on the Apollo 9 prime crew, reuniting him with his Gemini 7 commander Frank Borman, and LM pilot William Anders, when Collins needed to have surgery for a bone spur on his spine.
Delays in construction of the first manned LM prevented it from being ready in time to fly on Apollo 8, planned as a low Earth orbit test. It was 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 was replaced with 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 CM Pilot, Lovell served as the navigator, using the spacecraft’s built-in sextant to determine its position by measuring star positions. This information was then 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 orbit 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, “Please be informed, there is a Santa Claus.” The crew splashed down safely on Earth December 27.
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 CM Pilot Jack Swigert and LM Pilot Fred Haise. He and Haise were to land on the Moon.
During a routine cryogenic oxygen tank stir in transit to the Moon, damaged electrical insulation on wiring created a spark and started a fire inside the tank. Liquid oxygen rapidly turned into a high-pressure gas, which burst the tank and caused the leak of a second oxygen tank. In just over two hours, all on-board oxygen was lost, disabling the hydrogen fuel cells that provided electrical power to the Command/Service Module Odyssey. This required an immediate abort of the Moon landing mission; the sole objective now was to safely return the crew to Earth.
Using the LM as a “life boat” providing battery power, oxygen, and propulsion, Lovell and his crew re-established the free return trajectory that they had left, and swung around the Moon to return home. Based on the flight controllers’ 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. 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.
Lovell 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, 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. 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, 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. Along with his wife, Marilyn, who also has a cameo in the film, he also provided a commentary track on both the single disc and the two-disc special edition DVD.
He has served on the Board of Directors for several organizations, including Federal Signal Corporation in Chicago (1984-2003), Astronautics Corporation of America in his hometown of Milwaukee (1990-1999), and Centel Corporation in Chicago (1987-1991).
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.
North James Lovell Street is the stretch of 7th Street between W. State Street and W. Clybourn Street in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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.
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.
Lovell Court is a street in the North Harbour Industrial Estate on the north shore of Auckland, New Zealand. Several streets in the area have names familiar to the US Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, including Armstrong Drive, Columbia Place, John Glenn Avenue, and Ride Way.
Lovell’s formal education consisted of the following:
Awards and decorations
Lovell’s awards and decorations include:
Military, federal service, and foreign awards
Other awards and accomplishments
- Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America) (1943) 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)
- City of Houston Medal for Valor (1969)
- American Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award; City of New York Gold Medal (1969)
- National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Special Trustees Award (1969)
- Institute of Navigation Award (1969)
- University of Wisconsin’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award (1970)
- AIAA Haley Astronautics Award (1970)
- Awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree at William Paterson College‘s commencement exercises (June 15, 1974)
- NASA Ambassadors of Exploration Award
- Fdration Aronautique 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
- Laureate of the Order of Lincolnthe highest honor awarded by the state of Illinois (2012)
- 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
- Cover of Life Magazine on 24 April 1970
- United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, March 19, 1993
- The Honourable Company of Air Pilots Award of Honour, presented by His Royal Highness the Duke of York, October 2013
- Member of Toastmasters International
- Trustee of the National Space Institute
- Chairman for the National Eagle Scouts Association
In popular culture
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 disc 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.
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.
On July 20, 2014, the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11‘s landing on the Moon, CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Lee Cowan and his crew did a piece called “Astronaut wives: The other space pioneers” featuring James Lovell and his wife Marilyn Lovell. They celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in June.