Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell turns 90

MADISON, Wis. (WKBT) - Apollo 13 commander and former UW-Madison student, Jim Lovell, turns 90 on March 25.

Lovell attended the University of Wisconsin from 1946 to 1948 under the Flying Midshipman program. He went on to serve as a navy captain, test pilot, astronaut, and commander of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon.

Lovell's actual words on that mission, "Houston, we've had a problem", have become an understatement in American lore. He was alerting ground control that a spark had caused an explosion inside an oxygen tank.

With no heat and limited electricity, the crew made it back home four cramped and cold days later.

After Lovell wrote a book about his Apollo 13 experiences, a 1995 movie featuring Tom Hanks as Lovell premiered, showcasing the historic flight.

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed a bill that gives Lovell and his fellow former astronauts the ownership rights to any artifacts that they collected during their missions. He remembers covering our planet with his thumb when he spotted it outside the spaceship window.

“It shows you how insignificant we really all are,” he said. “Everything I ever knew, the very existence of people, all of the problems we have on Earth, was behind my thumb.”

Lovell is one of only 24 people to have flown to the moon, the first of only three people to fly to the moon twice, and the only one to fly there twice without making a landing. He was also the first person to fly in space four times. 

Lovell is featured in the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Alumni Park, in its Alumni Way Discovery panel. The park, opened on October 6, 2017, is located between Memorial Union and the Red Gym on the UW–Madison campus. It is open year-round. For more information and a virtual tour of the park, please visit 


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