December 24, 2013 By: Mark Glennon
Had I known 45 years ago that someday I’d be introducing my son to Jim Lovell, Christmas Eve that year would have been still more magical than it was.
As a kid that night I was mesmerized along with pretty much everybody on the planet with a TV. The first people ever to leave Earth’s orbit circled the Moon and Jim Lovell, along with the rest of the Apollo 8 crew, delivered an extraordinary broadcast. If you never saw it, or want to relive it, a video link is here.
My son, Scott, like most of his generation, knew of Jim Lovell from Apollo 13, the movie about the subsequent failed lunar landing. Tom Hanks plays Lovell, and it’s a magnificent story in itself. When Scott was about five, after he’d watched Apollo 13 for probably the tenth time, my wife and I took him to Lovell’s restaurant in suburban Chicago to meet him. After lunch Lovell stopped at our table to shake Scott’s hand and chat. Lovell is a gentleman of the finest kind, and he was as gracious as he could be.
As we left I called my dad, handed the phone to Scott and told him to say who he just met. “Tom Hanks,” Scott said!
Apollo 8, too, seemed to conflate fiction with reality. 1968 had been an awful year — assassinations, riots, and Vietnam. But it ended with such a splendid triumph of human determination and scientific endeavor. I still remember the feeling of wonder I had laying in bed that night, thinking about what I’d just seen and heard.
Thanks, Mr. Lovell — and all Apollo Program alums. As the Apollo 8 crew said just before crossing over to the far side of the Moon, into radio silence and darkness:
“We close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you — on the good Earth.”