Matthew Olbert, 12, of Bethalto, portrays Neil Armstrong for a school project.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Nov. 13, Principia College in Elsah welcomed Apollo 13 astronauts at its “Failure is Not an Option” George A. Andrews Distinguished Speaker Series event.
For 12-year-old Matthew Olbert of Bethalto, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“His love for space started when he was 3 and he asked for his first telescope,” his mother, Jodie Olbert, said. “After, Principia College heard of him portraying Neil Armstrong in a ‘living museum’ school project. They asked if he would like to be their special guest and sit in the front row. He got to converse and joke with his heroes, wearing the astronaut suit that got him with the Apollo 13 crew.”
Rather than write a story about the event, we let Matthew describe his experience himself.
Here is Matthew’s submission:
Principia’s College president, Jonathan Palmer, was proud to announce two heroic astronauts, Captain James Lovell and Fred Haise, along with astounding Mission Flight Control Director Gene Kranz. They spoke at Cox Auditorium Thursday night, Nov. 13.
Sue Thoma and Brett Grimmer coordinated this amazing event, as part of the Andrews Speaker Series. The music selection being played by the orchestra, while watching onscreen playback of the Apollo 13 mission mixed in with the movie bits, was very touching and dramatic in the presence of these three reunited extraordinary men.
They spoke in a living room setting, sharing their most intimate thoughts and feelings leading up to, during and after their Apollo 13 flight. The mission was labeled a successful failure, after their crippled spacecraft ran into numerous difficulties trying to make its way back to Earth.
Captain Jim Lovell was quoted as saying, “You look back at Earth from the Moon, and you put your thumb up to the window and hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything you’ve ever known is now behind your thumb.” He spoke of looking down at Earth and stating: “you couldn’t see boundaries at all; it looked as one, if only we could all be that way.” Inspired by Charles Lindbergh, he also gave us a little fact about himself, stating that he didn’t qualify the first go around to become an astronaut; he flunked the physical. If they hadn’t called him back for a redo, he wouldn’t be sitting in front of us today. The audience exploded into hoots, hollers, and loud thunderous clapping when he said his infamous line, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” His sense of humor always came through, as he jokingly reminisced with his buddies on stage. Laughing, he said NASA said there were 125 mistakes in the movie.
Fred Haise never knew if he really wanted to be an astronaut. He joined the Air Force, never having flown before, and found his passion for flying. After six incidents, one where the accident left him with 65 percent of his body burned, three months in the hospital, and taking 14 months to get back into the flight program, that never stopped his ambitious drive. A never give up attitude! When asked about the Apollo 13 flight re-entry back to Earth, he described it: “It was like being inside of a light bulb with all its brightness and glow. The condensation inside made it look like a white glowing rain shower.”
Gene Kranz was looking especially sharp, wearing the exact same vest his wife gave him in April 1970 for directing the Apollo 13 mission. Yes, it still fits him! When asked how he kept the ground crew from panicking and completely stressing out, he said: “Confidence; I directed 25 different kinds of missions and that experience game me the confidence I needed.” His big statement to his crew was “this crew is coming home!” He never did say “failure is not an option” like the movie version. He always looked at the mission as a success, so he was stunned when as soon as the men made it home safely, he received a message from President Nixon that read: “This may be the last time in this century.”
A successful night with students getting questions answered by three Apollo 13 heroes Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Gene Kranz. What an extraordinary journey we all took for a night, a trip to the moon and back.