Wednesday, April 11, 2012


by James Craig Green

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13, the ill-fated mission in which Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert would have lost their lives but for the outstanding work by their NASA ground support teams. This was the mission, later made into a movie with Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, in which one whole side of their command vehicle blew out, forcing them to return to Earth from the Moon without landing. I'll never forget Tom Hanks' quote in the movie after shutting down all unnecessary systems to save battery power - Gentlemen, we just put Isaac Newton in the driver's seat. He meant, of course, that periodic course corrections would not be possible in this mode, relying only on Sir Isaac Newton's laws of gravity and motion while coasting. Few people seem to realize that Newton's magnificent laws, which survived intact for more than two centuries before Einstein's relativity, were not good enough to get to the moon and back without an occasional course correction.

Wikipedia article on Apollo_13

In the spring of 1970, I was a second lieutenant in the Air Force, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. I had graduated from the University of New Mexico in February 1969 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, working as an orbital analyst for the Air Defense Command. I was getting ready to spend a year in southeastern Turkey at a remote satellite-tracking ground station west of the Ural Mountains near the Soviet Union.

I didn't know it then, but a dozen years later, in 1982, I would meet Jack Swigert in my first campaign as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress in Colorado's brand-new 6th Congressional District.

Jack, a national hero after Apollo 13, was a lifelong bachelor, a real gentleman and the Colorado Republican Party's candidate for Congress in the newly-formed district. The Democrat was Steve Hogan, city councilman from the City of Aurora. Then, there was little ole' me... soon to garnish a whopping two percent of the vote just for showing up.

Little did I know I would have the opportunity of a lifetime, participating in several televised debates and many other joint public meetings, more than a dozen public appearances in all.

Jack Swigert was a shoe-in within a congressional district where the Republican would obviously win by a two-to-one margin over the Democrat. However, early in the campaign, he was diagnosed with cancer and tragically died two months after his election.

Of course, I never had a chance to win the election, but my intent was to promote my libertarian philosophy of free markets, a defensive foreign policy and massive reductions in government spending, opposed vigorously by most Democrats and Republicans. Fortunately for me, Jack was not the least bit threatened by my presence, so I enjoyed a forum over several months to present my entire political philosophy on an equal footing with the two major party candidates. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.

My most fond memory during the campaign was near its end, when Jack showed he had been listening to me. I just about fell out of my chair when he said, in response to a question about national defense: When it was called the Department of War, its purpose was defense. Now that it's called the Department of Defense, its purpose is war. I couldn't have imagined another Republican candidate (without the popularity and media presence of an astronaut) saying this without suffering severe criticism from his Republican colleagues during the Reagan years. But, everyone knew Jack was going to win, so I was never a threat.

I was saddened to hear of Jack's death in January 1983, and attended his funeral service at the Catholic Church on South Monaco in Denver. When I walked in, one of Jack's campaign volunteers who I had gotten to know during the campaign took me up to the VIP section, and sat me down right behind Alan Shepard, the first American in space and the only one of the original Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon.

It was not an appropriate time to glad-hand famous people or take pictures. At his graveside, I gave Jack my first salute in a decade.

Next time you go to Denver International Airport, you may want to visit Jack's life-sized statue in the middle of Concourse B. I'll never forget the national hero who generously allowed me to participate in so many debates with him and criticize both Republicans and Democrats in 1982.

Rest in Peace, Jack...

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