Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on February 27, 2016 · Page C1
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page C1

Detroit, Michigan
Issue Date:
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Page C1
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Though he is aging and achy, Jack Lousma is only 20 years old. The retired NASA astronaut — who was born in Grand Rapids, graduated from the University of Michigan and lived in Washtenaw County for decades — is arguably Michigan’s most famous leap day baby. Lousma (LOUZE-ma) spent more than 1,600 hours in space, but what could’ve been the most exciting space flight of his career — a trip to the moon — was canceled after the space program accomplished all i t set out to do on the first 17 Apollo missions. The former Marine colonel had been slated for Apollo 18, 1 9 or 20. Instead, he piloted Skylab 3 (SL-3), America’s f irst space station, in 1973 and was commander of the third orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle Col umbia in 1982. However, Lousma, who actually is 80, is best k nown as the person who heard one of the most famous sentences in U.S. history — “Houston, we have a p roblem.” Not bad for someone who didn’t even know he wanted to go into that field. “The word ‘astronaut’ was not even invented until I was a senior in col- l ege,” he told the Free Press in an interview. Lousma h ad jettisoned plans to be a business major after d eciding it required too much reading, then switched to engineering — and through the process of elimination, aeronautical engineering. “If I became an electrical engineer, I’d probably e lectrocute myself. If I became a chemical engineer, I ’d probably blow myself up. I always loved air- p lanes,” he said. Lousma’s decision to join the Marines was similarly straightforward: Two years into school, it was too late for him to join the ROTC, and the Army and Air Force cadet programs didn’t accept married s tudents. (He’d already wed his high school sweet- h eart, the former Gratia Smeltzer.) His path was paved when he saw some Marines in U-M’s Angell Hall. “I said, ‘You guys don’t have airplanes.’ They said, ‘We do.’ ‘Can I I fly them?’ And they said, ‘Maybe. Y ou always have to pass the test.,” he recalled. He retired from NASA and the Marines in 1983 a nd worked in the private sector after a brief foray into politics — a failed U.S. Senate run against Carl Levin, in what he believes was the closest race Levin faced. In 2014, Lousma and his wife moved to Texas b ecause two of his four children live in the Lone Star State, along with 13 of his 16 grandchildren. “ The center of gravity of our family has changed,” he quipped. Groan. But a pun only an astronaut can get away with. HERE ARE 29 LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT MICHIGAN’S MOST FAMOUS LEAP DAY BABY: 1. His real name is Jack. Not John. J ack. Like the Greektown Casino. 2 . He likes to joke that he was born on Feb. 29, 1936, because he was k eeping track of the calendar while in utero. “It’s quite a good deal,” he says now that he’s out. “Usually — three o ut of four years — I celebrate on March 1. It goes by in a split second at m idnight.” 3 . Political wonks would argue he’s not Michigan’s most famous leap day b aby. That superlative goes to former U.P. Congressman Bart Stupak, D- Menominee. 4 . Too-large reading assignments tanked his plan to be a business major at U-M. “In engineering, maybe you r ead three pages, but for two hours,” he explained. 5. He earned degrees in aeronautical engineering from U-M in 1959 and the Naval Postgraduate School in 1965. He also has honorary doctorates from U-M (1973), Hope College (1982), Cleary College (1986) and Sterling C ollege (1988), though he doesn’t use t he title “doctor” preferring colonel i nstead. 6 . Though a Wolverine, he wasn’t a m ember of either of the two all-Michi gan NASA crews — Gemini 4 in 1965 and Apollo 15 in 1971. 7. He pointed out that the sentence h e’s best known for being on the receiving end of is misquoted. What Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert Jr. a ctually said was “Houston, we’ve had aproblem here.” According to the NASA transcript, Lousma — who was the capsule communicator, or CAP- C OM, the person in the flight control room through whom all communications with the astronauts passed — a sked Swigert to repeat what he said, b ecause he’d been talking to the f light supervisor about something e lse. Swigert did. 8 . Forty-six years later, he still remembers: “[Astronauts] don’t cry wolf. W hen they said they had a problem, I realized they had one. We didn’t know what it was. We had a hard t ime figuring it out. ... Nobody panicked. No one put their head on the d esk and cried. No one threw a fit. E verything was done very professionally.” 9 . He enjoyed the Academy Award- winning Ron Howard film “Apollo 13,” which tells the story of the fate- f ul flight, calling it “one of the most accurate space films.” 10. His pre-NASA resume included y ears as a trained combat pilot. 11. He didn’t think he could get into the astronaut program. It began in 1958, and he thought it was “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” He realized he was wrong when he saw an ad in the base’s weekly newsletter, inviting Marine pilots to apply. 1 2. His wife, Gratia, was very support ive of his decision to apply. “I won- d ered why she was so willing. She t hought the same thing I did — 1 0,000 people (would apply). Why s tart an argument, when I won’t make it anyway.” It turned out she was wrong. 1 3. He has four children — three sons and one daughter. Only one followed him into the aeronautical field. Tim, t he oldest, is an FAA-certified airplane mechanic, who had jobs with NASA contractors working on trainers and simulators at the Johnson Space Cent er in Houston. 14. Despite recalling the deaths of his Apollo 1friends and taking a scary call f rom Apollo 13 (disaster was later a verted), he wasn’t nervous when s itting on the launch pad in 1973 for t he launch of Skylab 3. “It was a relief. I had trained,” he said, recalling the two and half years of work before t hat exciting day. 15. The mission insignia for Skylab 3, designed by the astronauts on the m ission, featured Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing. However, t hey gave him a slight hair cut (”He d oesn’t look too much like a Marine.”) and obscured the genitals of t he naked figure. 16. Apollo 18 never happened — except in Hollywood. It was made into a n eponymous movie about a mission to the moon that NASA covered up after aliens killed the astronauts a board. 17. He was part of the back-up crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first joint U.S.-Soviet space mission in 1975. He didn’t end up flying the flight, but he picked up some Russian words and KGB stories. 18. His next space flight was supposed t o help rescue the Skylab, but it end- e d up crashing to Earth — into the I ndian Ocean and the Australian Out- b ack. 1 9. Instead, he returned to the sky in 1 982, as commander of the third orbital test flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia after Fred Haise, who’d b een on Apollo 13, retired. 20. He didn’t know at the time that would be his last space flight. Later, h e said he thought, “Am I going to tread water for the next two years. ... My heart wasn’t in it anymore.” 21. He logged 1,619 hours, 13 minutes, a nd 52 seconds in his two space flights and spent 11hours and 2 minutes in two separate spacewalks outside the S kylab on his first flight. 22. After retiring from NASA and the M arines, he ran for the U.S. Senate a gainst Carl Levin, who was camp aigning as an incumbent for the first time. Part of what did him in during t hat 1984 campaign was the unions’ anger that his son owned a Toyota. 23. In all his years living in Michigan, h e never voted for Levin. 24. When politics proved a no-go, he w ent into the private sector, doing t echnical consulting and project management and helping IT and electron- i c medical device start-ups. 25. He and his wife moved to Texas in January 2014. He joked, “We thought 5 2 winters in Michigan was enough.” 26. His hobbies include golf, hunting, fishing, visiting his children and g randchildren and working with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. 27. The morning the Challenger blew up 30 years ago this year, he was on his way to Houston, crossing the Huron River in his car with the radio on. He couldn’t immediately determine what had happened, so he turned a round and canceled his trip. He w atched the coverage at home and t ook calls from people in the NASA c ommunity. 2 8. He later attended the memorial s ervice. “We have camaraderie. We know how all these people feel. We try to console and comfort families,” h e recalled. “We do all the best we can to continue to support them even after the astronaut has been laid to r est and still keep in touch with those who have lost their loved ones. It’s a big family, a unique one. Astronauts never forgot those types of things, b ut it doesn’t deter us.” 29. He likes Tang. Contact Zlati Meyer: 313-223-4439 or z Follow her on T witter @ZlatiMeyer NASA Jack Lousma h ad been scheduled to fly to the m oon, but remaining flights were c anceled after Apollo 17. WWW.FREEP.COM SATURDAY, FEB.27,2016 LIFE C Coming Sunday Entertainment: Previewing t he Oscars Life: Meet the new Detroit- inspired American Girl doll Travel: New England is cool THE WHO: Pete Townshend, 70, and Roger Daltrey, 72 in a couple of weeks, are ready to call it a wrap after half a century. We’ve heard farewell intimations before, but this time it appears to be the real deal, as the two surviving Who members lead a career-spanning set of hits and favorite album cuts. 7:30 p.m. today, Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center, Detroit. 313-396-7000. $39.50-$139.50. AT FREEP.COM What’s new on Mackinac Island? ■ Try a recipe: Lenten fish tacos. Dear Carolyn: Two people i n my life recently wanted me to say specific things to them to fulfill their emotional needs. It wasn’t a personal preference, as in, “Please refer to my wedding as my Union” — a simple request — but, “I want you to say sorry even though you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.” Or, “I want you to ask me about this because I want to talk about it.” I told both of these people I thought these requests were ludicrous. W hat aggravates me is that I don’t think they got what t hey were looking for, which is asking me to feel emotions Idon’t feel, then to express these insincere emotions to t heir satisfaction. — But I W ant You to Say … W ow — hard to see past your dukes, they’re up so high. These people want something from you that you’re obviously not giving — and I ’m not talking about the s tock, insincere phrasing that y ou rightly question but too- combatively deride to their faces. I’m talking about the emo- t ional satisfaction they would d erive from knowing they’ve b een heard. If I read correctly between the lines here, you’ve knowingly denied them the “I hear you” assur- a nce they seek. T he thing is, “hearing” t hem doesn’t have to mean you agree with what they’re saying. You can understand their points even as you disagree. It’s a broadening of w hat you treat as valid. S o where you see ludicrous r equests, I see unfortunately phrased versions of “Please understand me.” Try that next time. Listen carefully and make it clear you grasp how they feel, even w hen your experience puts you entirely somewhere else. Re: Ludicrous: I get this a f air amount from my 20-year- old daughter. We have a good relationship, but sometimes I miss my lines. You know, the, “That’s awful!” or “You poor b aby!” or “You’re so smart,” or whatever form of affirmation/sympathy/support she is l ooking for at that moment. Then she might tell me, “Dad, y ou’re not very good at this.” Truth is, I don’t want to give her everything she w ants, every time. That’s not what a parent should do. Still, a friend who tells you w hat she wants you to say is also saying: “I could use some sympathy or validation right n ow, and it doesn’t have to be heartfelt.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sometimes honoring a request like that. — Dad “Sometimes” is key. You also have options besides just caving at one extreme or batting it down at the other: “I know you want s ympathy, but” — for example — “this comes up so often I don’t think sympathy is helping.” There’s always room for a truth kindly told. Read Carolyn Hax every day in the Free Press. Write to her care of the W ashington Post, Style Plus,1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail People want to know you get them CAROLYN HAX 29 things you didn’t know about leap day baby Jack Lousma By Zlati Meyer Detroit Free Press

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