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NASA's Unlucky Number Might Have Returned

Ex-astronaut notes eerie parallels between his Apollo 13 and shuttle's 113th mission.

November 15, 2002|From Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Even James A. Lovell can't help but notice the spooky similarities between his flight, Apollo 13, and NASA's upcoming space shuttle mission, No. 113.

Endeavour is still grounded, nearly a week after it was supposed to blast off to the international space station.

"Well, you know, this is shuttle 1-1-3. One hundred and-thirteen. Two people have been removed from the shuttle for medical problems. They have an oxygen leak," Lovell, Apollo 13's commander, said Thursday evening at the local premiere of the movie "Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience."

"Hear a story there, Ron?"

He was talking to Ron Howard, who directed "Apollo 13."

Lovell, Howard and Tom Hanks, who portrayed Lovell on the big screen, were at Kennedy Space Center for a dinner and showing of the IMAX movie to raise money for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Earlier this week, NASA called off Endeavour's launch with just a few hours remaining because of a leak in the astronauts' oxygen supply. Lovell and his crew were on their way to the moon when an oxygen tank in their service module ruptured on April 13, 1970.

The shuttle's oxygen leak was traced to a deformed flex hose, hardly a rupture.

As for other resemblances, the Endeavour mission lost two crewmen over the summer for health reasons. Substitutes stepped in. Apollo 13 lost one, but the switch in command module pilots occurred much closer to launch, after the countdown had begun.

Hanks said he did not think, initially, that he was right for the starring role.

"At first, I thought it was the most hideous casting imaginable," Hanks said. "Shouldn't somebody else that is better looking or can come in and make people fear you somehow? Because without knowing Jim, I thought, 'He must be an incredibly fearful, commanding sort of presence.'

"Then I get to know Jim and I see that, look, he's a very charming man. He's a great storyteller. He seems to have this wonderful zest for life and his family.

"He's also deeply, deeply competitive to the point of making sure that he drives the car. He's the commander."

Hanks then conspiratorially lowered his voice. "And I said, 'OK, well in that case, I think I can have an approach on which I could have some things in common.' "

NASA is planning to launch Endeavour no earlier than Monday. While fixing the oxygen leak, workers accidentally bumped a platform into the shuttle robot arm. Managers are assessing the damage.

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