James Lovell

by Renee from San Diego, California in United States


“Defined broadly, ‘a hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary ... a hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves’” (Fingeroth, “Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society.”). Heroes represent the best of a society; they have the traits most admired by the public, and they are those relied on for help in times of need. But a hero is more than just the accomplishments and celebrity. To me, a hero is someone who uses their talents to help those in need, and someone who looks beyond his or her own safety for the greater good. A hero, when it comes down to it, never backs away from trouble, and fights for those in need as a representative of a people, and is someone that can be looked up to. They are idealistic, and a good role model for the youth, teaching valuable lessons and showing individuals how to make their own mark on the world. But most importantly, if someone impacts the world in a positive way, no matter how big or small the gesture, and fights for what is right, they are a hero. Heroes have very diverse and extensive skill sets, but can be defined by their problem-solving skills and patience when performing under large amounts of stress and danger.

Someone who found his own heroic side in times of need was NASA astronaut James Lovell during what is known as a “successful failure”: the Apollo 13 mission. Born on March 25, 1928, in Cleveland, Ohio, James Lovell always had a passion for flight. He soared, quite literally, through the Naval Academy of Annapolis, writing his senior thesis on liquid-fuel rocketry. He then studied naval aviation at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, taking him to countless navy bases for training, and finally was accepted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1962. There, he took part in several revolutionary missions, including piloting Gemini 7 and Gemini 12, flying to the moon with Apollo 8, and flying captain in the infamous Apollo 13 mission. He also assisted from Earth on Apollo 14, sending Alan Shepard to the moon. In his time, Lovell set the record for his time in space between his four flights, and millions of miles traveled, playing an instrumental role in the development of the United States’ space program. However, he is best known for his work on the Apollo 13 mission. When the situation seemed hopeless and everything was failing, Lovell played a key part in keeping his crew together and alive, and helped restore them all to safety back on Earth. Through countless complications and the gradual panic as time started to run out, he kept his cool and cooperated with those around him to come up with solutions, providing the world back home with a new hero to look to when they had lost hope for Apollo 13. Through his quick problem solving skills when infinite troubles ailed him, and his extreme patience when all hope seemed to be lost, James Lovell is a hero to not only America’s space program, but to the world.


121719Lovell leads the crew of Apollo 13 to the transport van on the day of launch. it seemed everything was falling apart around him, Lovell’s problem-solving came through to save his crew, and was a leading factor in the “successful” aspect of Apollo 13’s “successful failure”. When hurdling away from Earth on a damaged spaceship, not many people would be able to formulate a plan as to how to get back home in a few hours; luckily, this didn’t apply to James Lovell, who found his way out of the sticky situation with ease: “They knew the lunar landing had to be scrubbed. They also knew they would need to circle the moon and use the momentum of the moon's gravitational pull--like a slingshot--to send them back to Earth. The crew performed a rocket firing--called a burn--to take them around the moon and head them back toward Earth...After they were around the moon, the astronauts performed a second rocket firing, and the craft was on target for the return trip. Now, to save all energy possible for the difficult re-entry, all the ship's systems were shut down.” (Biography Today, "Jim Lovell."). Coming up with solutions to such uncontrollable and inescapable problems is an incredible feat in itself, but when over a quarter million miles from home and in a spaceship rocketing away from Earth, it’s even more admirable. Lovell’s quick thinking under pressure emphasize the qualities that make him so heroic, and set him apart from society in intelligence and ability to work with very little to accomplish so much. Even when a problem seemed virtually impossible, there was always a way to throw something together for a fix with Lovell, his intelligence and steadfast perseverance made a great team with several unusual struggles encountered during the mission: “The crew would have to transfer canisters of lithium hydroxide from the dead command module to the lunar module, to remove the excess carbon dioxide. The only problem: those canisters were square, whereas the lunar module’s canisters were round. In a moment that the film ‘Apollo 13’ has since made famous, the team would have to ‘invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole.’ They did so using a piece of plastic Lovell recalled that he had stored underwear in, a cardboard cover from a manual, an old sock, and duct tape.” (Chu, “Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell”). The use of both ordinary and rather unusual items to solve a task as impossible as fitting a square peg into a round hole showcases the extent of Lovell’s problem-solving skills, and his heroic solutions he so brilliantly comes up with on the go. Lovell showcased incredible problem-solving skills in times of peril. He wasted no time solving problem after problem that arose in exceptionally quick time, whether it was fitting a square peg into a round hole, or trying to land the soaring spacecraft that rocketed him back into Earth’s atmosphere. Lovell’s intelligence and quick wit contributed greatly to saving the lives of his crewman, and to his heroic profile.


121725Jim Lovell in the lunar module of Apollo 13. is nothing more heroic and utterly vital in a demanding situation than a leader who can keep their cool and have everlasting patience while working toward a solution, and James Lovell provides this support system when it matters most. When despairing news of Apollo 13’s complications reached the crew within it, Lovell’s incredible patience let him handle the news very well for such a dire situation; rather than lose control of his emotions, he put on a brave face for his crew: “Behind Lovell’s annoyance was the fact that, according to everyone’s calculations, Houston has only about an hour and fifty-four minutes to come up with good ideas. That was all the time that was left in the cabin’s oxygen tanks. After that, the crew would slowly start rebreathing their own carbon dioxide, gasping and sweating, wide-eyed, as they strangled to death...It was enough to make people start talking about the poison pills.” (Lovell and Kluger 6). If the dire conditions on the spacecraft were “enough to make people start talking about the poison pills,” clearly the situation was nearly impossible to handle, and it takes a strong person to take the facts and keep calm. When even death seemed like a better option than any fight for survival, the determination, persistence, and patience Lovell had must have been incredibly strong, keeping himself and his crew alive and working towards a fix. When asked years after the ordeal to recall the emotion within the spacecraft during the disastrous time, Lovell has a shockingly tight grip on what happened and how his emotions controlled the situation: “Did the crew ever panic during their ordeal? ‘Certainly we had the impulse,’ says Lovell, in his characteristic low-key way. ‘Anybody would. But if we had panicked during Apollo 13, all we would have done is bounce off the walls for 10 minutes. Then we would be right back where we started, with 10 less minutes to figure things out.’” (Chu, “Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell”). The awareness Lovell had over the situation and his patience in such anxiety-inducing times shows a lot about his character and reveals his heroic qualities when it comes to working hard to save as much as he can. If he hadn't kept his cool and been aware of how his behavior affects the situation, the outcome may not have been so happy in the end, and his realistic view on how to get past obstacles efficiently is forever relevant and educational for our society. Lovell showed extreme patience and perseverance in desperate and harrowing times. When everything seemed impossible, and when he could have easily lost his cool, he remained calm, and this in turn was one of the factors that brought him home from the Apollo 13 mission alive. Without his patience in stressful times, the work that he is so admired for today may never have happened, and he could have lost everything else, including his crew, while he was at it.


121714Lovell receives NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award of his problem-solving talents and extremely controlled patience in times of trouble, James Lovell is a true hero. Lovell used his talents when it mattered most, and helped save the lives of the crew of the Apollo 13 mission, returning them all to Earth alive when it seemed impossible. He consistently solved problems as universal as fitting a square peg in a round hole or as specific and unusual as having only hours of oxygen available to travel over a quarter of a million miles back to Earth. When his team depended on their captain for help, he always delivered and played an instrumental role in the saving of their lives. Throughout the entire process, Lovell also found a way to keep himself and his emotion under control, never slipping and wasting any of the precious time he and his crew had left. This helped ensure everyone else on board remained calm, and made the ordeal much more bearable and efficient for everyone involved on Earth and in space. Because of the heroism he displayed during his time on Apollo 13, Lovell has inspired countless people around the world, including a student during a speech at MIT, where he shared a very important piece of knowledge: “Before closing his talk, Lovell took several questions from the audience, including one from an AeroAstro PhD candidate, who asked his advice for anyone dealing with stress. ‘You have to have a positive attitude and look ahead,’ Lovell responded. ‘If we got curled up in some sort of attitude, waiting for a miracle to happen, I’d still be up there. And one other thing: Crises don’t bother me anymore. I just look at them and figure out how to get out of them, and that’s it.’” (Chu, “Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell”)

Personally, I have always had an unwavering love for astronautics and space. It’s always been a dream of mine to find myself close to space, whether I work in close proximity or learn from afar, and as one of the most influential and earliest astronauts to find himself in the area of space exploration, James Lovell will always be such an inspirational figure for me. He is someone who’s made a lasting impact on the world of space travel, and forever a reminder of what hard work and perseverance can do to someone with a goal, and a dream. Like me, Lovell had a passion for flight from a young age, and through countless years of training, though even a rejection from NASA after his first application, he never stopped working and persevering. His patience as he continued to push for what he loved can teach so many people in and outside the area of aeronautics; he teaches the dreamers of the world what can be accomplished when they fight for what they are passionate about. If a hero really is someone who rises above fear and limitation to reach their dreams, I think we can all learn from James Lovell and his everlasting mark on the world; we can all learn to have patience and to think outside the box to live our best lives and change our world, one dream at a time.


Works Consulted

Lovell, Jim, and Jeffrey Kluger. Lost Moon: the Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. The Easton Press,


"James Lovell." Astronomy & Space: From the Big Bang to the Big Crunch, Gale, 2008.

Biography in Context,

Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

"James Lovell." Gale Biography in Context, Gale, 1999. Biography in Context,

Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.

Chu, Jennifer. “Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell:” MIT News, 28 Apr. 2016,

"Jim Lovell." Jim Lovell (Biography Today), Jan. 2010, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

Fleming, James R. “Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society.” English Department Website, 2006,



Page created on 2/25/2018 10:02:14 PM

Last edited 9/6/2022 4:08:34 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Apollo 13 - A synopsis and extended details of the mission that James Lovell made the greatest impact in.
Astronaut Jim Lovell Tells How He Dealt With Fear Aboard Apollo 13 - A greater look into Lovell's personal experience throughout the mission, and how he persevered through his fear when everything went wrong.