This Saturday, my granddad and I attended a talk by former U.S. astronaut Colonel Jack Lousma, organised by Space Lectures in Pontefract – they were also the organisers for previous talks I’ve attended by Ken Mattingly and Jim Lovell.
Originally a pilot with the Marine Corps, Jack Lousma made two spaceflights in his NASA career. In 1973, he was on the second of three flights to the Skylab space station, spending 59 days onboard with his crewmates Alan Bean and Owen Garriott. Almost nine years later, in 1982, he commanded STS-3, the third orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle; he and pilot Gordon Fullerton spent eight days testing the orbiter Columbia, including the first use of its robotic arm. Another of Lousma’s claims to fame is that he was acting as CAPCOM (capsule communicator) for the Apollo 13 mission when an oxygen tank exploded on the spacecraft, so it was he who received Jim Lovell’s famous report, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
Lousma opened his lecture with a video of highlights from STS-3, set to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”. He briefly talked about the flight, primarily on how they had to delay their landing and come down in New Mexico, due to bad weather at the planned landing area in California – it was an example of astronauts always having to be prepared for whatever problems might arise. The majority of the lecture focussed on Skylab, with Lousma covering the design of the space station, its use as a scientific platform for observing the Sun and the Earth’s surface, and what daily life was like for himself and his crewmates. This included such details as food preparation, sleeping, and exercise; the astronauts had to use their exercise bike for up to an hour and a half each day just to maintain good condition. With the longest pre-Skylab American spaceflight having lasted for just two weeks, far less was known then about the long-term effects of weightlessness on the human body than today, and medical experiments were an important part of the mission. The astronauts also needed to be versed in basic medical procedures, so that the mission wouldn’t need to be aborted if one of them came down with a toothache.
A Q&A followed the lecture, where my granddad was able to get a question in, asking Colonel Lousma whether he would do anything different if he had his time over again. Lousma replied that he would have liked to have walked on the Moon – though that was outside his control – and to have spent more time observing the Earth while he was in space.
Thank you to Jack Lousma and Space Lectures for another great event!