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Even Before Apollo 13, Tom Hanks Was a Space Geek

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When he was a boy, Tom Hanks was obsessed with the space program. “Man, I became addicted,” said Hanks. “From Apollo 7 on up, I lived this stuff. I knew the crews. I’d run home for the launches. I got A’s in physics, thinking maybe I could be one of those guys. I was Space Boy. I thought I was so lucky to be alive at a time when man was gonna walk on the moon.”

Young Tom Hanks spent countless hours assembling models of lunar modules and imagining what it would be like to blast off into space. “I would sit at the bottom of our swimming pool with a brick stuffed in my swimming trunks, breathing through a garden hose stuck in my mouth, just so I could see what it was like floating, pretending I was a guy in space. I would go underneath the ladder with a fake wrench and pretend I was tightening the bolts, sucking on that garden hose, because to me, there was nothing in the world that was more interesting.”

“I was always dazzled by the idea that frail human beings of flesh and bone could go off in these vacuum-packed little spacecraft and travel half a million miles. That’s the thing that would always get me.” Hanks remembers running all the way home from school to watch the newscasts about the imperiled Apollo 13 astronauts when he was 13. “They’ll live the rest of their lives up there,” he thought. “It’s like being buried alive.”

“There were nine Apollo missions to the moon, and I think they are
nine of the greatest stories of all time,” said Hanks. “If you’re
trying to tell the story about what the human consciousness can
accomplish, going to the moon has never been topped.” For years, Hanks
had told anyone who would listen that the Apollo 13 story would make a
terrific movie. Finally, in 1993, he came across someone who agreed
with him — director Ron Howard, who had recently bought the rights to
Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell’s book, Lost Moon.

“I have always wanted to be in a pressure suit, somehow,” said
Hanks. “I’ve always wanted to play an astronaut. I’ve always wanted to
shoot a vast section of a movie completely encapsulated by nothing but
metal, glass and switches, and I finally have a chance to do that. So
this is real dream-come-true stuff, here.”

In Tom Hanks, director Ron Howard found a partner who would keep him
honest on the myriad details of the Apollo 13 mission. “Tom was a key
collaborator in the process,” said Howard. “I was thrilled to learn of
his interest in the project. When Tom and I met in New York about it, I
saw that he had a long-standing love affair with the space program and
had always been particularly interested in the story of Apollo 13. Due
to his passion for all things NASA, he was miles ahead of me in
knowledge of the basics of space flight and the details of the
mission… He came to the project with an incredible knowledge of
space.”

Hanks admitted that while making Apollo 13, he sometimes felt
like “the most annoying person around,” because he was a stickler for
following procedure. He studied the air-to-ground transcripts of the
Apollo 13 flight to make sure he was mastering the technical language,
cross-checked every detail and argued for accuracy in every plot twist.
“I felt strongly about us sticking to what really happened,” said
Hanks. “There was enough suspense and drama in the real experience, so
there was no need to add anything extra.”

Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, portrayed by Tom Hanks in the film,
was thrilled that Hanks took such an interest in the space program. “I
couldn’t have been happier with Tom, because Tom, in reality, is a
closet astronaut,” Lovell said.

Hanks insisted he’d jump at that chance to be a real astronaut. “I’d
do it in a minute,” he said, “but it costs around $400 million to send
one of those shuttles up, and there’s only seven seats. I don’t think
they need to send someone up there just so he can have funny stories
for the David Letterman show.”

Watch the DVD-enhanced version of Apollo 13. For a complete schedule of this movie on AMC, click here.

To read about how Apollo 13 put the space program back in the spotlight, click here.
To read how the Actors of Apollo 13 lost their lunch preparing for zero gravity, click here.

Sources:
Cindy Pearlman, “Space Race,” Chicago Sun-Times, 6/25/95
Jeffrey Kluger, The Apollo Adventure, Pocket Books, 1995
Malcolm Jones, Jr., “Out of this World, Really,” Newsweek, 7/3/95
Richard Corliss, “Hell of a Ride,” Time, 7/3/95
Piers Bizoni, “The Film Director Ron Howard Is Riding High on the Back of Apollo 13,” The Independent, 9/18/95
Larry Rohter, “On a Mission to Dramatize the Space Race,” New York Times, 5/25/97
Don Aucoin, “Tom Hanks’ Space Odyssey,” Boston Globe, 4/5/98
Apollo 13 DVD Extras: Lost Moon Featurette

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