Apollo 13 Trip

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I’m still coming down to Earth (literally) after an incredible weekend spent in the small West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract. This place has been the unlikely host of numerous Apollo astronauts over the last number of years, thanks to local magistrate Ken Willoughby and his fantastic Space Lectures team.
I may be in my early twenties but I’m certainly no stranger to meeting astronauts. Since my first encounter with Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott at an autograph event in Birmingham in September 2009, I have been lucky enough to shake the hands of many of these men I consider heroes.
Of the 29 American astronauts that flew on Apollos 7 through 17 between October 1968 and December 1972, 20 are still alive today. I consider myself privileged
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However, the efforts of people like Ken Willoughby and his team means these opportunities still exist for now.
Many will recognise the name Jim Lovell as the astronaut played on the big screen by Tom Hanks in the hugely popular 1995 movie Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard. Lovell himself has acknowledged Howard used some artistic licence in the film, but overall it was impressively true to the tale of the ‘successful failure’ that was the Apollo 13 mission in April 1970.

The 87-year-old Lovell, accompanied on the Transatlantic flight to England by his wife of 63 years Marilyn, was decidedly busy the entire weekend. A formal dinner on the Friday night was followed by a professional photo session, lecture, Q&A and autograph signing on both the Saturday and Sunday, but the organisation ensured all went smoothly.
Even as a boy it seemed Jim Lovell was destined to go far. He became an Eagle Scout after high school and was intensely interested in building and flying model rockets. He was aiming for the skies long before his life’s journey took him around the far side of the Moon
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Lovell was joined by pilots like Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, John Young and Pete Conrad and this group would provide the core of astronauts for the Gemini program. Gemini was the 2-man precursor to sending men to the Moon and a necessary program in terms of testing the intricacies of not only living in space for extended periods, but spacewalking (EVA), and the rendezvous and docking of vehicles in a vacuum.
The Apollo 13 commander had already been in space three times before both he and crewmate Jack Swigert uttered those famous words ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem’ after an oxygen tank exploded on the Apollo 13 command module ‘Odyssey’. During the Gemini 7 mission he and Frank Borman spent two weeks in Earth orbit, getting used to each other’s smells and habits in their weightless environment, in a living space no bigger than the inside of a Volkswagen Beetle. He then commanded the final flight of the Gemini program, Gemini 12, in 1966 alongside Buzz Aldrin.
The Christmas Eve Genesis reading and beautiful ‘Earthrise’ photo taken on board during one of 10 orbits of the Moon are historic in themselves, and of course I couldn’t meet that mission’s Command Module Pilot without having him sign a beautiful framed presentation commemorating just

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