Editorial: Does Apollo 13 have lessons for our pandemic 'adventure'?

As anniversary approaches, can we draw parallels to our pandemic 'adventure'?

  • At a 1970 news conference, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell explains how the crew managed to survive after an explosion damaged the service module during their mission to the moon. At center is John Swigert, command module pilot, and at right is Fred Haise, lunar module pilot.

    At a 1970 news conference, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell explains how the crew managed to survive after an explosion damaged the service module during their mission to the moon. At center is John Swigert, command module pilot, and at right is Fred Haise, lunar module pilot. Associated Press File Photo

  • Jeff Knox/jknox@dailyherald.comApollo 13's Captain Jim Lovell speaks in 2002 at Pheasant Run Resort in St Charles.

    Jeff Knox/jknox@dailyherald.comApollo 13's Captain Jim Lovell speaks in 2002 at Pheasant Run Resort in St Charles.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted4/8/2021 1:00 AM

Adventure seems a lot more fun when you're watching it on a movie screen or TV.

Living it is a different matter.

 

Precarious undertakings, in real life, tend toward the hair-raising. Meeting the challenges and reminiscing later, after you've survived, might be a highlight of your life. But in-the-moment fun? Not so much.

We're thinking of the suburbs' own Jim Lovell, who 51 years ago on Sunday headed into space aboard Apollo 13 with the aim of landing on the moon. The disaster that famously unfolded was described as a "true adventure" by Lovell as he dedicated his 1994 book "Lost Moon," co-written by Jeffrey Kluger, to his wife and children "who shared with me the fears and anxieties" of four riveting days in 1970.

The standout lesson from Apollo 13 is the inventiveness, focus, intelligence and audacity of the astronauts and Mission Control in executing a rescue plan for commander Lovell, command module pilot Jack Swigert and lunar module pilot Fred Haise in the face of a cascade of catastrophes.

Buffeted by 2020's devastating worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and 2021's uncertainty, can we borrow hope and perhaps a small bit of pride from Apollo 13's example?

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Hope in our resilience.

Pride that humankind produced scientists whose vaccines are tamping down the COVID-19 crisis far better and far earlier than was predicted in the first months of the pandemic more than a year ago. If a book comes out about that dramatic race against the advance of a tenacious and deadly virus, we'll read it.

Unlike Lovell on Apollo 13, none of us signed on for the COVID-19 adventure. Thrust into sickness, grief, fear and pain, humanity nonetheless seems likely to prevail.

Looks like we'll all have a story to tell.

Lovell, who moved to Lake Forest after Apollo 13, reminisced during last year's 50th anniversary coverage that he quickly went from considering Apollo 13 a failure -- it sure didn't land on the moon -- to viewing it as "a successful failure."

"I think it will stand out as one of the episodes in the history of American spaceflight," Lovell told Michael Hagerty of Houston Public Media. "And it will also stand out as a success to see how taking an almost insurmountable problem and then with the two sides -- Mission Control working closely with the flight crew -- turned a failure into a success."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's something to think about the next time you catch a few scenes of actor Tom Hanks, in the guise of Lovell, drifting around your TV screen aboard a dead spaceship in the ubiquitous 1995 "Apollo 13" movie.

Coincidently, Hanks figured into the pandemic narrative as the most famous COVID-19 patient for a time in March 2020, falling ill along with his wife Rita Wilson just as Illinois residents were locking themselves behind closed doors to try to avoid becoming victims.

That's enough for us. If the movie version of "The Pandemic" adventure ever comes out, we're rooting for Hanks to be cast as the lead.

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