Lovell's mission is down-to-earth

July 27, 1996|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

What a difference 26 years makes. In 1970, Commander Jim Lovell lived through one of the most dramatic events in space history when an explosion rocked the moon-bound Apollo 13. The three-man crew's harrowing trip home was a triumph of human ingenuity and teamwork, made famous again last summer when Tom Hanks played Lovell in the movie "Apollo 13."

There was far less heart-stopping suspense this week when Lovell came to Baltimore to promote public interest in space. Just compare the film version of his life to Lovell's decidedly down-to-earth marathon press tour.

Mission:

In 'Apollo 13'-- To steer a crippled spaceship to Earth while dealing with a sick crew member, frigid temperatures and dangerously high carbon dioxide levels.

In Baltimore -- To be the chairman of and celebrity spokesman for Mission HOME, a program started by aerospace corporations and associations to promote the benefits of space exploration and research.

Endurance test:

In 'Apollo 13' -- Had to survive seven days in a cramped, damaged spacecraft without enough heat, oxygen or power.

In Baltimore -- Had to survive 15-hour day of television and radio interviews, autograph requests and photo ops with only a fruit-and-cheese plate and a few pastries for sustenance.

'Houston, we have a problem':

In 'Apollo 13' -- Jim Lovell's grave pronouncement after in-flight explosion damages command-service module.

In Baltimore -- Jim Lovell's corny joke after chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car spontaneously pops open hood on Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Moment of defiance:

In 'Apollo 13' -- Lovell refuses to wear the sensors that monitor his bodily functions. Tells Mission Control: "I am sick and tired of the entire Western world knowing how my kidneys are functioning!"

In Baltimore -- Lovell refuses to wear a fake flight jacket for television interviews. Tells public relations man: "Oh, come on. I don't want to schmaltz this up too much."

Uncharacteristic behavior:

In 'Apollo 13'-- Tense and exhausted, Lovell explodes at bickering crew mates in lunar module.

In Baltimore -- Tense and exhausted, Lovell refuses to give autograph to elderly man who has waited outside science center for three hours.

Crucial skills:

In 'Apollo 13'-- Lovell's ability to remain cool, calm and collected while providing leadership in a life-threatening crisis.

In Baltimore -- Lovell's ability to remain chipper, upbeat and enthusiastic while pointing out, to the umpteenth interviewer, that Baltimore Ravens helmets are lined with a protective foam developed by NASA.

Testimonial:

In 'Apollo 13'-- "If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could fly it." (Lovell's mother, reassuring his family before a dangerous re-entry attempt.)

In Baltimore -- "He is just incredible in terms of being able to remember the names of all the TV anchors. It's amazing." (Science center spokeswoman, gushing after Lovell's successful banter with Channel 13's Don and Dr. Bob.)

Disappointment:

In 'Apollo 13' -- Lovell's failed mission means he doesn't get to walk on the moon.

In Baltimore -- Lovell throws out the first pitch at Camden Yards, but has to do interviews and can't stay for game.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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