Happy Valentine’s Day “With Love, from the Man on the Moon”
The greatest love story on Earth didn’t take place on Earth at all—it happened 238,900 away from Earth on our celestial neighbor! In honor of Valentine’s Day, read about the grand romantic gesture Captain James A. Lovell Jr. made while orbiting the Moon on Apollo 8.
“You want the Moon? Say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.” Anyone who’s seen the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life knows this infamous line. But did you know that 50 years ago, an astronaut we all know and love actually made good on this larger-than-life promise in his own way?
If you want to be truly romantic this Valentine’s Day, take a note out of Captain James A. Lovell Jr.’s flight plans (and not just because “love” is in his name). Fifty years ago on Apollo 8, he became one of three astronauts to make history by becoming the first crew to orbit the Moon. But on Valentine’s Day, we have to reflect on the fact that he also made history by making the greatest romantic gesture in the history of humankind. While many families were with their families on Christmas Eve in 1968, Marilyn Lovell—along with millions of others—was listening to her husband and his crew-mates read from the book of Genesis (a broadcast you can hear & watch in our Mission Moon exhibit!) while orbiting the Moon. In terms of long distance relationships, the several days Lovell was in space is guaranteed to take the cake.
One of Lovell’s jobs on Apollo 8 was to look for distinctive lunar features in order to find suitable landing sites for the future crew that would eventually make the first Moon landing. He noticed a small, triangular mountain that had yet to be named, right on the Sea of Tranquility. Its location was perfect, right on the flight line of the proposed landing course for the future Apollo 11 mission and would make for the perfect descent point. In Lovell’s words,
“I named it ‘Mt. Marilyn’ after my wife and briefed the astronauts when I returned.”
This is probably the closest you can get to actually throwing a lasso around the Moon for your loved one. This officially-named Moon feature will be referred to as Mt. Marilyn for generations. And sure enough, the Apollo 11 crew used Mt. Marilyn as their initial landing descent point for the Moon landing the next year!
We can’t all journey to the Moon and name craters, mountains, and ridges after our loved ones. But here’s another part of this Love(ll) story that we can try to apply to our gift-giving! Before leaving on the Apollo 8 mission, Capt. Lovell arranged to have a fur coat to be delivered to his wife Marilyn on Christmas day. So that on Christmas Eve—while he was seemingly worlds away—the gift was delivered to Marilyn with a note signed, “With love, from the Man on the Moon.”
Space exploration may seem like the most alien, outta this world thing we can do. But at its core, space exploration is about the human element. It’s about testing the limits of our knowledge and abilities, expanding our perspective, bringing us all a little closer together, and better understanding the human place in the Universe. And at the end of one of the most turbulent decades in American history, it was a crew of three men in space who drew millions of people together. Perhaps that’s why a grand gesture of love taking place so far outside of our atmosphere is so striking—it shows that love truly has no limits.