Innsbruck, March 14, 1971
The Encounter with the Astronaut
[The City of Innsbruck had invited the Astronaut James A. Lovell, Jr., for a goodwill visit.]
The encounter with an astronaut is an exceptional experience that could not be replaced even by the best of telecasts. The opportunity of personally meeting with the most experienced American astronaut, James Lovell, offered itself last night, on Saturday evening, at a reception given in his honor by the Austrian-American Society in Innsbruck. After 700 hours in space, Lovell was an image of radiant health, giving no indication that the long exposure to weightlessness had left any physical damage. As a person Lovell is unpretentious, more of a sportsmanlike simplicity, but deeply religious. He told the story of the failed Apollo 13 mission. According to his own account, the most moving moment in his career as astronaut occurred when, on board of Apollo 8 at Christmas 1968, he entered the far side of the moon. For the first time in human experience, the earth vanished from manís sight. However, when Lovell narrated how on its return flight the Apollo 13 spacecraft had nearly missed the earth by a hairís breadth and could have revolved around the sun perpetually, the audience felt a cold shiver running down the spine.
Although spaceflights go to the limit of human endurance, and often it seems beyond it, the astronaut has incorporated space and spaceflights into the human experience. Space has become a part of our environment. For people of the 20th century, a new dimension of the heroic has been opened, which otherwise was lost long ago. While the complexity of space technology remains incomprehensible for most people, the undivided admiration stays focused on the astronaut. Lovellís visit clearly demonstrated that the human element in space exploration is necessary and that manned spaceflights fulfill a meaningful purpose.