Jim Lovell never reaching the moon is like Charles Barkley never making it to the NBA finals — only worse. Although Lovell was on board Apollo 8, the first manned flight to circle the moon, Apollo 13 was Lovell’s single chance to walk where Neil Armstrong had gone before. He left NASA in 1973 to become a telephone company executive. Now 67 and retired to Horseshoe Bay, Tex., with Marilyn, his wife of 43 years, Lovell was a technical adviser on Apollo 13, which is based on his 1994 memoir, Lost Moon.
EW: Did the flight change you?
JL: To an extent, I think of myself as living on borrowed time. Nothing really rattles me, because I could have taken my last breath back in 1970. Actually, the explosions happened at just the right time: Earlier, we wouldn’t have had enough power to get back; later, we wouldn’t have had enough fuel.
EW: Are you superstitious?
JL: You’d think I would be. I did carry a St. Christopher’s medal on my four spaceflights, and Marilyn did recover the ring [as the film depicts, her wedding ring went down a drain]. In the old days, Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and I would call each other every April 13th and talk about ”Boom” day.
EW: Did you ever lose faith that you’d get back to earth?
JL: You have to remember we were test pilots and Apollo 13 wasn’t our first crisis. We didn’t panic because, as in solitaire, there’s always another card to play.
EW: Did every astronaut drive a Corvette?
JL: At that time we did. It all started with Alan Shepard. He had a deal with Chevrolet, and then we all got them. We weren’t high-speed drivers, as in the first draft of the movie.
EW: How is it being famous — again?
JL: I figure this is sort of a bubble. My third career was speaking about the space program and my flights, but once everybody sees this film, there goes my job. When this whole thing is over with and you think of Apollo 13, you’ll visualize Tom Hanks.