Principia College made history on Nov. 13 by bringing together on stage for the first time three of the four key members of the Apollo 13 space mission: commander Jim Lovell, lunar module pilot Fred Haise and flight director Gene Kranz.
Apollo 13 was NASA’s third planned trip to land on the Moon until the mission was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded aboard the service module. Through amazing communication, teamwork and feats, all three of the astronauts — Lovell, Haise and Jack Swigert, the now-passed command module pilot — returned safely to Earth.
Along with Principia bringing world-famous speakers to campus, the College also offers a unique opportunity for students to attend a dinner with the honored guests, where they come prepared with discussion topics and questions for a once-in-a-lifetime meal at Hutchinson House. Dinner with Lovell, Haise and Kranz didn’t disappoint sophomore Michael Rohrer. “I thought it would be really inspiring to hear their story and get a firsthand account of how they got through that, and seemed to accomplish the impossible — actually did accomplish the impossible,” he said. Rohrer also praised the astronauts and flight director by expressing what an honor it was to just sit in their presence and listen to them speak about their life experiences.
Many consider these men American heroes. Rohrer considers the because they unified not only the whole country, but the whole world. He explained that Americans and others around the globe felt unified because “everyone was on the same page trying to get these people home from space … and it could apply to more than just Apollo 13 because they showed us that limitations don’t have to limit us,” he said. “We can accomplish things that seem impossible.”
After the dinner at the Hutchinson, the three speakers made their way to a completely full Cox Auditorium, with overflow in Wanamaker Hall. They entered to a standing ovation that was preceded by the Principia orchestra playing selections from the “Apollo 13” film soundtrack. A montage of photos and videos from the mission accompanied the orchestra, illustrating the events, the men, and the impact they had on a whole country. The three speakers sat in a semicircle of armchairs as they spoke about their lives before, during and after the Apollo 13 mission.
With more than just some technical difficulties, the Apollo 13 mission to land on the Moon was aborted, and the plan changed to one of survival: bringing the men back home. They worked with Kranz back at Mission Control to write new codes and to, both literally and metaphorically, “fit a square peg in a round hole.” The astronauts and Mission Control worked a miracle, and the crew made a perfect splashdown six days after launch, and with no more than 27 minutes of battery remaining when they hit the water.
Lovell shared that his biggest impression from his experience was not looking at the Moon, but looking back at Earth. All he could think about was how small it was, and how he was able to cover everything he knew with just his thumb.
The men taught us great lessons: have intense motivation, keep your head down and don’t give up.