World

Marilyn Lovell, wife of astronaut in spotlight, dies aged 93

Marilyn Lovell, who for many Americans embodied the hardships and glamor of a woman astronaut as an object of fascination for the news media, an inspiration for film and television characters, and a figure in history books, died August 27 in Lake Forest, Illinois. She was 93.

her death was announced from the Wenban Funeral Home of Lake Forest.

Her husband, Jim Lovell, once the United States’ most experienced astronaut, was the captain of what is perhaps the country’s most dramatic space flight: Apollo 13. It was launched on April 11, 1970 with the goal of returning astronauts to the lunar surface for the third time. Mr. Lovell and Fred Haise were the designated moonwalkers; Jack Swigert should remain in orbit.

However, two days after launch, an oxygen tank exploded and the Command Module Odyssey began to lose power. “Houston, we had a problem,” reported Mr. Lovell (a statement preserved in the retelling as “Houston, we have a problem”).

The crew aborted the planned moon landing and fled to the Aquarius Lunar Module to fly back to Earth from there.

The crisis captivated the world, with Ms Lovell playing a central role as a wife and mother of four, watching the television news to see if she would soon be a widow.

Those harrowing days were commemorated in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, a 1995 film that received nine Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Kathleen Quinlan, who played Ms. Lovell. (Tom Hanks played Mr. Lovell.)

The film was based on Mr. Lovell’s memoir Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, co-written with Jeffrey Kluger and later reprinted in paperback simply as Apollo 13. The Lovells and their children were also characters in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

In these and other depictions, Ms. Lovell helped mold the astronaut’s wife into a heroic archetype: the American housewife who puts up with her husband’s work-related absences, who sacrifices peace of mind for the great adventures of his and her country and herself faced the possibility of his death with dignity while the nation looked on, and wrested from it all a life that they found enchanting.

Marilyn Lillie Gerlach was born on July 11, 1930 in Milwaukee to Lillie and Carl Gerlach. Her father ran a candy store.

As a freshman at Juneau High School in Milwaukee, she often made shy eye contact with a student who worked behind the cafeteria counter to get free lunch. One day this boy, Jim Lovell, invited her to the junior prom.

She was soon spending time on the family porch, chatting with Jim’s mother while he launched homemade rockets from a vacant lot nearby. Attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Marilyn enrolled at George Washington University in Washington after graduation to be closer to him.

She typed his college paper. A few hours after his graduation in June 1952, they were married in an Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

Early on, Mr. Lovell worked as a Navy test pilot. In 1962 he was selected as one of the so-called New Nine, the second group of American astronauts (after the Mercury Seven) that also included Neil Armstrong.

The Lovell family settled in Houston, close to other astronaut families, in a cozy neighborhood the press dubbed Togethersville. Several of the wives — including Annie Glenn, Betty Grissom, and Rene Carpenter — became public figures themselves.

On Christmas Day 1968, while Mr. Lovell was participating in the Apollo 8 mission, the first manned space flight to orbit the moon, Mrs. Lovell opened her door to find a representative from Neiman Marcus carrying a large box with lunar motif decor. Inside was a mink coat and a note that the New York Times would later publish describe as “the most romantic card in the universe”: “To Marilyn from The Man in the Moon.” Mrs. Lovell did her chores that day in her pajamas and her new mink coat.

On this mission, Mr. Lovell named a triangular mountain on the lunar surface Mount Marilyn. It was intended to serve as a landmark for astronauts later and in 2017 campaign by Mr. Lovell, the name was official accepted by the International Astronomical Union.

While many astronauts and their wives eventually divorced, the Lovells stayed together despite the unusual strains the family faced.

Ms Lovell hid one of her pregnancies from her husband for four months because she feared NASA would view her pregnancy as a distraction for her husband and prevent him from going to space if it became public knowledge. However, the success of her secrecy worried her, making her wonder if her husband simply hadn’t been around long enough to realize she was pregnant, Lily Koppel wrote in her 2013 book The Astronaut Wives Club.

Then there were hectic days when it was unclear whether Apollo 13 would return to Earth safely. Ms. Lovell, like other astronauts’ wives, devotedly watched television reports from ABC News’ science correspondent Jules Bergman, whose candid reporting she felt could be trusted. He gave Mr Lovell a 10 percent chance of survival.

When Ms Lovell’s 12-year-old daughter Susan became hysterical upon seeing a priest at her door, Ms Lovell found a way to calm her down. “Do you really think the best astronaut we know will forget something as simple as how to turn your spaceship around and fly home?” she asked her daughter, according to Mr. Lovell’s memoir.

Reporters with laptops, microphones and television cameras filled the Lovell family’s lawn and driveway. She took a call from President Richard M. Nixon: “I just wanted you to know, Marilyn, that your president and the entire nation are watching your husband’s progress with concern,” he said. “Everything is being done to get Jim home.”

As the television showed parachutes launching from the spacecraft and bringing it safely to the surface of the sea, a couple of famous astronauts in Mrs Lovell’s living room, Mr Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, opened champagne. President Nixon called with a new message: “I wanted to know if you would like to accompany me to Hawaii to pick up your husband.”

She replied, “Mr. Mr President, I would like to do that.”

Coming out of her house to speak to reporters in a red, white and blue striped dress, she said: “Isn’t it a great day? I am very grateful and humbled, thankful to the men at Mission Control who made it possible for my husband to return to Earth.”

Mr Lovell later worked for a shipping company and in telecommunications. The family lived in Lake Forest for 40 years. He survives Mrs Lovell and their children Barbara Harrison, Susan Lovell and Jeffrey and James Lovell III; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

As harrowing as it was to be the wife of an astronaut, it was a dream come true for Ms Lovell to lead “a life of glamorous adventure,” Ms Koppel wrote in The Astronaut Wives Club.

In an interview with Ms. Koppel, Ms. Lovell summed up her time in Houston in one sentence: “Those were the best years of my life.”

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