Astronaut Jim Lovell visits Adler

Apollo 13 commander James A. Lovell Jr., operates a tape recorder in the lunar module as the spacecraft made its way back to earth following the oxygen tank excplosion. This photo was taken from a 16mm color movie film released by NASA in Houston, Tex., April 20, 1970 and contained other information.

March 31, 2010 3:33:37 PM PDT
Forty years ago on April 11, Apollo 13 blasted off for the moon.

On Wednesday, Captain Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, spoke at Adler Planetarium about the mission, which went from near disaster to unbelievable rescue.

Lovell kicked off the planetarium's month long "Shoot for the Moon" celebration. He told the story to students from the city's Air Force Academy High School.

"About 200,000 miles out as you might expect we had that explosion. And right away we didn't know what the situation was but as it turned out we had an oxygen tank that blew up," said Capt. Lovell.

The explosion lead to what many call NASA's greatest hour. The spacecraft had lost two of its three oxygen tanks and electrical power but somehow mission control had the astronauts jerry rig their command and lunar modules for a heart stopping ride home. Four days later they landed safely and the world sighed in relief.

"The mission was, ah, a complete failure ... the actual mission. But the real heroes were those guys sitting in the control center who, ah, never trained for, never planned for a problem such as they encountered on Apollo 13," said Lovell.

For Lovell it's something to look back on. For these young students it's a dream to look forward to.

"I'm actually going to take aerodynamics in my senior year and then aerospace classes at the university," said Cadet Marabel Ceniteros, Air Force Academy High School. Does she want to go into space someday?

"Yes sir."

One of Lovell's fellow astronauts is now appearing on ABC's hit TV Show "Dancing with the Stars." The two were onboard Gemini 12 together in 1966.

"Ha, ha Yeah I saw in Dancing With The Stars ... Dancing to Fly Me To The Moon, Moon River and everything else. Well, more power to him," said Lovell.

More blast off power to Buzz-- and thanks to Lovell for flying us to the moon and back ... safely.