A school hall in Pontefract isn’t where you would normally expect to encounter a NASA legend, played on the big screen by Tom Hanks, but for the past several years Space Lectures have brought some of the biggest names in space history to this unlikely venue.
The latest speaker was Capt Jim Lovell, probably most famous for leading the Apollo 13 mission. Such was the demand for an audience with Capt Lovell that an extra date was added to the schedule and despite his 87 years he showed plenty of energy during the extra day of photo sessions, lecture and autograph signing.
The talk had been titled “Apollo 13 – A Sucessful Failure”, but while the ill fated mission is undoubtedly the best known, equal promenance was given to his earlier Gemini 7 & 12 and Apollo 8 missions giving a wonderful insight into the early days of the space race. When the lecture reached Apollo 13 I was struck by how much Capt Lovell played down the drama of the events that had the world holding its breath. Rather than focusing on the precise manual adjustments to the lunar module “lifeboat”‘s trajectory that he was responsible for were to the crew’s survival he instead make light of the drama, joking about how Pilots Jack Swigart and Fred Haise were more interested in taking photos of the moon as they attempted to slingshot around to a “free return trajectory” than listening and recording down the rescue procedure being communicated to them by Houston Ground Control. He was at pains to communicate his view that rather than being a disaster the Apollo 13 mission provided NASA with practical experience of dealing with the unexpected and, if even for a few days, united the world in a common hope.
A Q&A session followed, hosted by Prof Brian Cox. Prof Cox has often stated that Apollo 8 was his favourite mission and clearly relished the opportunity to talk with one of the pioneers of space travel. Questions were taken from the audience with many comming from the younger attendees, including Prof Cox’s own son after a quip about nepotism.
Capt Lovell was an engaging and charismatic speaker and his obvious passion for the future of space travel shone through. It was a privilge to have the opportunity to meet and listen to this amazing man. I look forward to seeing Space Lectures next guests.