Jim Lovell and Fred Haise talk aging, stellar travel, and the space program’s legacy
By Robert Frankel
One would imagine just one trip to the moon and back would be enough work for a lifetime.
But for Fred Haise and Capt. James Lovell, two astronauts perhaps best known for their time aboard the “successful failure” that was Apollo 13, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“I never have retired,” said Lovell, before going on to correct himself: “I think I’ve retired about four or five times.”
Haise echoed the sentiment.
“You can’t sit in your rocking chair,” he said.
Haise and Lovell were in Dallas for the Frontiers of Flight Museum’s Exploration Space 2017 Gala. There, they were honored with the George E. Haddaway Award. The award is given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in the realm of flight, be it as a pilot or aircrew member, or through leadership or education.
But this was not the first time that Haise and Lovell have traveled to discuss their legacies in flight and space exploration. They’ve remained active at home and beyond, both in and out of the flying communities.
Lovell, a retired naval aviator who was the commander of the Apollo 13 mission, among others, is a member of several boards, including one for Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. Recently, he joined the board of the National Museum of the American Sailor in Great Lakes, IL. He watches DVDs of lectures on cosmology, planetary systems, and the origins of Earth.
Lovell co-wrote that book (also published as Lost Moon) with author Jeffrey Kluger.
Haise, a former military aviator and Apollo 13’s Lunar Module Pilot, spoke about his sister, who, after working as a city clerk in Biloxi, MI, for years, finally retired and sank into depression.
“She had no hobbies,” he said. “I talked to her and said, we support museums, which are not-for-profits. There are lots of opportunities, there.”
Haise said his sister ultimately joined the committees for Mardi Gras and a state parade, and even works a few days a week at Biloxi’s visitors center. Simply having something to do, he emphasized, gave his sister a better outlook.
Beyond that, of course, both Haise and Lovell continue to speak to star-struck audiences about their time as pilots, be it with NASA or otherwise, and the space program, in general.
“And obviously Apollo 13 events,” Haise said. As Apollo 13’s only surviving crewmembers (Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert died in 1982), he explained, the two men “try to be on stage for Apollo 13.”
As the conversation turned toward the final frontier, Lovell offered his opinion on NASA’s plans for the future.
“I think we ought to go back to the moon,” he said. “Build an infrastructure to go back to the moon and be comfortable about going to the moon, so we can land and explore. Maybe have a habitat there, for a while.”
After that, he proposed, expand that infrastructure and architecture to make spaceflights even further outward not just more comfortable, but also more feasible.
“Some people are talking about the next couple of years,” said Lovell, about reaching Mars. “And I think that’s ridiculous.”
Some of NASA’s plans involve sending a crew to circumnavigate the red planet. Lovell, however, believes NASA’s Curiosity rover has rendered such a flight irrelevant. Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012, and has been in operation ever since.
Lovell called the rover a “magnificent device.” Thanks to Curiosity, he said, “we know more about the surface of Mars than Armstrong knew about the moon when he landed.”
Continued Lovell, “You have to put people on [Mars] to enhance what Curiosity has already done.”
Haise’s hopes for NASA were less specific. He said commercial endeavors, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX projects, could help relinquish NASA from its responsibilities ferrying supplies and personnel to and from the International Space Station. But he shared Lovell’s belief that the organization should return to its basic mission: that of exploration.
“The real job ought to be heading outward,” Haise said, “be it to the moon, or eventually Mars — or someday, hopefully, even further.”
That sense of adventure resonated from both men, even during some discussion of their time aboard Apollo 13. Early on in the flight, but shortly after the on-board malfunctions, Haise recalled feeling less concerned with his own personal safety than with the lost opportunity for a lunar landing.
“My emotion initially was just sick to my stomach with disappointment,” he said. “We lost a landing.”
But both Haise and Lovell also know that it’s that sense of exploration that truly captured the spirit of the space program, itself.
“A great spinoff of the space movement was it encouraged a lot of young people,” Lovell said. “They used to always look at dinosaurs. That was the big thing, more than it was airplanes with guys like [us]who grew up when Lindbergh made the flight. Now it’s space.”
His words couldn’t have ringed truer: in attendance at the Gala was nine-year-old Sofia, who had opened her own neighborhood lemonade stand in order to meet two of her heroes, Jim Lovell and Fred Haise.
She wants to be an astronaut when she grows up, and perhaps she will be — a part of the next generation of men and women who will venture to the moon, to Mars, or somewhere else beyond the stars.