Marilyn Lovell was the wife of NASA astronaut Jim Lovell, who commanded the Apollo 13 mission that famously suffered a critical malfunction on its way to the Moon in 1970. She was also an active member of the Astronaut Wives Club, a group of women who supported each other and their husbands during the space program. She died on August 27, 2023, at the age of 93, of natural causes. Here is a brief overview of her life and legacy.
Early Life and Marriage
Marilyn Lovell was born on July 11, 1930, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the youngest of five children. She attended Juneau High School in Milwaukee, where she met her future husband and partner of 71 years, Jim Lovell. They were high school sweethearts who married shortly after Jim graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952. They had four children: Barbara, James III, Susan, and Jeffrey.
Astronaut Wives Club
As Jim’s career took him from the U.S. Navy to NASA, Marilyn supported him and their family. She also took on an active role in the Astronaut Wives Club, a group of women who provided emotional and practical support to each other and promoted their husbands’ careers and achievements. According to CBS News Sunday Morning, Marilyn said, “I think we girls all shared something that no other group of women shared in history.”
Marilyn was especially close to Susan Borman, the wife of Frank Borman, who flew with Jim on Gemini 7 and Apollo 8. The two families lived next door to each other in Houston and remained lifelong friends.
Apollo 13 Crisis
Marilyn’s most challenging moment as an astronaut’s wife came in April 1970, when Jim was the commander of Apollo 13, the third mission intended to land on the Moon. Two days into the flight, an oxygen tank exploded on board, crippling the spacecraft and endangering the lives of Jim and his crewmates, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise.
Marilyn was at home with her children when she received a phone call from NASA informing her of the accident. She later recalled that she felt “numb” and “shocked” but tried to remain calm and optimistic for her family and the public. She said, “I had to put up a good front because I knew he was depending on me.”
For the next four days, Marilyn watched anxiously as NASA engineers worked tirelessly to devise a plan to bring the astronauts home safely. She also received constant updates from Charles Berry, the flight surgeon, who assured her that Jim was in good health and spirits. She said that she never gave up hope but also prepared herself for the worst. She said, “I had already planned his funeral in my mind.”
On April 17, 1970, Marilyn’s prayers were answered when Apollo 13 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and Jim and his crew were rescued by a Navy ship. She said that it was “the happiest day of my life.” She was reunited with Jim at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, where they embraced and kissed in front of the cameras.
Later Years and Death
After Apollo 13, Jim retired from NASA and became a successful businessman and speaker. He also co-authored a book about his experience, Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, which was adapted into a film in 1995 starring Tom Hanks as Jim and Kathleen Quinlan as Marilyn. Marilyn herself had a cameo appearance in the movie as a spectator at the launch.
Marilyn continued to support her husband and their children, who pursued careers in various fields. She also enjoyed traveling with Jim and spending time with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Marilyn died peacefully on August 27, 2023, in Lake Forest, Illinois, surrounded by her husband and family. She was 93 years old. According to her obituary on Wenban Funeral Home’s website, she died of natural causes at Lake Forest Place retirement community.
A Tribute on the Lunar Surface
Marilyn may have never gone into outer space, but she left a mark on the lunar landscape with her name. During the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, Jim named a triangular mountain on the Moon after her while orbiting around it. He called it Mount Marilyn, as he recounted in his book. He said, “Then I found it, and I’m going to name it. What do you guys think of ‘Mount Marilyn’?”
Mount Marilyn is a 4,600-foot-tall (1,400 meters) peak that sits between the dark lunar lava plains of Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) and Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility). It served as an important landmark for the Apollo 11 astronauts as they descended to the surface in 1969, and the name appeared on many Apollo-era technical maps and reports. For decades, it was an informal designation, but in 2017, it was officially recognized as Mount Marilyn by the International Astronomical Union.
Marilyn is survived by her husband; her children, Barbara Harrison, James Lovell III, Susan Lovell, and Jeffery Lovell; and 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She is remembered as a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and friend, who showed courage, grace, and resilience in the face of adversity. She is also honored as a part of the history of space exploration and human achievement.