Jim Lovell is an American hero best known as the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. The Eagle Scout, Naval Academy graduate, former fighter pilot and astronaut is now 87 years old. The following inspirational story is from an interview he gave about his efforts to get back to the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La in a crippled fighter jet he was piloting. I’m sure he had no idea at the time how this experience would prepare him for his most infamous space mission.
“Uh well, I’ll tell ya, I remember this one time – I’m in a Banshee at night in combat conditions, so there’s no running lights on the carrier. It was the Shrangri-La, and we were in the Sea of Japan and my radar had jammed, and my homing signal was gone… because somebody in Japan was actually using the same frequency. And so it was – it was leading me away from where I was supposed to be. And I’m lookin’ down at a big, black ocean, so I flip on my map light, and then suddenly: zap. Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone. My lights are gone. And I can’t even tell now what my altitude is. I know I’m running out of fuel, so I’m thinking about ditching in the ocean. And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there’s this uh, there’s this green trail. It’s like a long carpet that’s just laid out right beneath me. And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was – it was – it was leading me home. You know? If my cockpit lights hadn’t shorted out, there’s no way I’d ever been able to see that. So uh, you, uh, never know… what… what events are to transpire to get you home.”