Jim Lovell was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 25, 1928. Even as a child he was interested in rockets. During high school with the help of friends and his chemistry professor, he built a rocket that flew 80 feet into the air, wobbled, turned and ‘exploded in a splendid suicide’. This was the start of Jim Lovell’s lifelong fascination with projectiles.
Upon entering college Jim was interested in continuing his study of rocketry and flight. Since there were no universities that offered a program in rocket science, and he was determined to achieve his goals, Jim decided that the military was the only place where flying was being pursued as a science and decided to enter. He applied to the Naval Academy and was placed on an alternate list.
Jim began his Navy career at Moffet Field in Moutain View, California in 1953, where he was an aviator assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La in the Pacific Ocean close to Japan. There he learned how to land jets on the carrier’s runway at night, and on one occasion did it with no lights and no ability to read his instruments, barely making it back to the ship’s landing deck.
In 1960 Jim got an invitation to go through testing to become one of the first astronaut pilots. Many men were chosen to undergo extensive medical and psychological tests; only six made it. This was uncharted territory – there were literally no guidelines or precedents on how to become an astronaut.