I have just listened to an interview with Jim Lovell the commander of Apollo 13. This is the guy who didn’t get to the Moon. The interview looks at how he eventually came to grips with the mission being a success, not the failure that it has been considered by many.

His is an incredible story of a boy from Milwaukee who read Jules Vernes and was building his own rockets in high school who flew on the historic flight of Gemini VII in December 1965. In November 1966 along with Buzz Aldrin he commanded Gemini XII on a 4 day flight which brought the Gemini program to a close and saw the beginning of the Apollo program.

His next mission was as the Command Module pilot on Apollo 8, from December 21 to 27, 1968. This was the first manned mission to be lifted into Earth orbit by the massive seven and a half million-pound thrust Saturn V rocket.

On December 24, the crew of Lovell, Frank Borman, and William A Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon. They captivated an estimated billion people in 64 countries watching nad listening on Christmas Eve as they broadcast televised images of the Moon and distant Earth while reading selections of the book of Genesis.

He was the backup commander for Apollo 11 and had been scheduled to command Apollo 14. Instead he and his crew swapped missions after it was decided that Alan Shepherd who had been grounded with an inner ear infection needed more time to recover.

They launched on April 11 1970 and he became the first man to journey twice to the Moon – even though he never did get to land. The mission was due to last ten days but as we all know they were only 55 hours into the flight when the Service Module cryogenic oxygen system failed. At that time they were almost 200,000 miles from Earth, Lovell and fellow crewmen, John L Swigert Jr and Fred W Haise Jr, worked closely with Houston ground controllers to convert the Lunar Module Aquarius into an effective lifeboat and get themselves safely home to Earth.

Another point of interest was that while they flew over the far side of the moon, they were 248,655 miles from the Earth. This is the farthest that man has to date travelled into space. After the safe return to Earth of Apollo 13 on April 17, 1970, Jim Lovell had logged a total of 715 hours and five minutes or almost 30 days, in his four spaceflights.

He left the US Navy and NASA in March 1973. He went on to co write a book on the mission in 1994 which was to become the basis for the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

And an interesting bit of trivia I have only just learnt – Lovell has a cameo role in the movie as the captain of the recovery ship. Lovell can be seen as the naval officer shaking Hanks’ hand, as Hanks speaks in voice-over, in the scene where the astronauts come aboard the Iwo Jima. So, I guess I am going to have to go and watch the movie all over again.

A small crater on the far side of the Moon was named in his honour in 1970.

An amazing man!