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VHS Alumni Reflects On 50th Anniversary Of Apollo 13


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Apollo 13’s crew returns home: (l-r) Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell

Fifty years ago on this date, the crew of Apollo 13 returned safely to Earth after America held its breath for four days. An oxygen tank in the main service module had failed two days into the mission and, without it, the module’s life support systems could not operate. The crew–Mission Commander Jim Lovell and pilots Fred Haise and Jack Swigert. Had to try to figure out how to survive in the much smaller lunar landing module while they tried to devise a way to get back home.

What does this have to do with Verona?

Marina Koren, a 2008 graduate of Verona High School, is a a staff writer at the magazine The Atlantic, where she covers space exploration. She wrote, last week, that she had never seen “Apollo 13”, the Ron Howard movie about the mission, but decided that it would be “a good way to forget reality for two hours.” Then she wrote:

“That hope was trampled about two minutes in. There, driving a red Corvette through the suburbs of Houston, was Tom Hanks, one of the first celebrities to come down with COVID-19. The news of his diagnosis in early March, which feels like a thousand years ago, really brought home the frightening reality of the new coronavirus for many Americans. The most recent experience many of us have of the actor is his Instagram posts from quarantine in Australia while he recovered from a fever and chills. In Apollo 13, however, Hanks is young, unwrinkled, and dashing as Mission Commander Jim Lovell.

The next jolt came soon after. Two days before launch, NASA officials approach Lovell with some bad news: One of the backup astronauts caught the measles from his kid a few weeks earlier, and the entire Apollo 13 crew has been exposed. Lovell and Fred Haise, the lunar-module pilot, are immune because they had the infection as children. Ken Mattingly, the third astronaut on the mission, isn’t. He isn’t exhibiting symptoms, but they could show up when the crew is in outer space, hurtling toward the moon. “Jim, that’s a lousy time for a fever,” the director of flight crew operations tells a stunned Hanks.

The rest of the story, like all of Koren’s writing, is well worth a read. You can find “We’re All Living in the ‘From Now On,’ Now” here.

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