Mission Moon: Captain Jim Lovell looks back at Apollo 11, 50 years later

In a FOX 32 special report, we take a unique look back at one of the most remarkable moments in human history.

Our Mike Caplan sat down with one of the men inside mission control on July 20, 1969. He takes us inside the Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

Captain Jim Lovell had a front row seat to history at mission control in Houston, Texas back in 1969.

“I was sitting next to the capsule communicator during that landing sequence when he was talking back and forth to the space craft,” Lovell said.

That spacecraft would successfully land on the moon, with Neil Armstrong becoming the first person to ever step on the lunar surface.

“Everybody in the astronaut corp, including myself, wished I was in Neil’s place at the time, but it worked out quite well,” Lovell said.

Lovell was the backup commander for Armstrong. He was also the command pilot for Apollo 8 -- and later -- Apollo 13, and he says the training for every mission was tireless.

“We had practiced quite a bit. There's a simulator that they had developed that you could go into a simulator in the lunar module and then actually practice landing on the moon,” Lovell said.

But Apollo 11 was different. Landing on the moon was more dangerous than flying around it, and while mission control did celebrate the landing, it was the liftoff back to earth that had them on the edge of their seats.

“It was really the return that was the most breathtaking - or holding your breath, I should say,” Lovell said.

“It was this moment when the world got together to see this event happen - this incredible event,” said Adler Planetarium Vice President Andrew Johnston.

Since that mission, the Apollo program would return astronauts to space six more times. All of them are celebrated at the "Mission Moon" exhibit at the Adler Planetarium, where you can look inside real spacecraft and see artifacts that were once in space.

And for anyone who thinks the moon landing was a hoax, Johnston says no way.

“I can guarantee you it's not. The reason I can say that is because I’ve talked with a few of these people that have been to the moon,” he said.

When it comes to the future of space travel and the moon, Johnston says there is much to discover.

“There are talks about extracting resources from the moon - things like getting water from the moon. There is some water ice on the moon,” Johnston said. “The moon is the most distant place that humans have ever been, and yet it's right there - anybody can just go outside and look up and feel that connection to the moon.”

That connection is extra special for Lovell. He says when he looks up, he sees “Mount Marilyn” -- a lunar mountain he named for his wife in 1968 -- made official by the International Astronomical Union just two years ago.

“I gave her a mountain on the moon,” Lovell said.