He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon. He is the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1928, Lovell was the only child of his mother Blanche, who was of Czech descent, and his father, a coal furnace salesman, who died in a car accident in 1933. For about two years, he and his mother resided with a relative in Terre Haute, Indiana. His mother then moved them to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he graduated from Juneau High School. He became an Eagle Scout.
As a child, Lovell was interested in rocketry, and built flying models. From the fall of 1946 to the spring of 1948, he attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison for two years under the "Flying Midshipman" program. There he continued to play football and joined the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. He later became an Eagle Scout.
While Lovell was attending pre-flight training in the summer of 1948, the Navy was beginning to make cutbacks in the program and cadets were under a great deal of pressure to transfer out. There were even worries that some or most of the pilots who graduated would not have pilot billets to fill. (This threat persisted until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.) He applied and was accepted to attend the United States Naval Academy in the fall of 1948. During his first year he wrote a treatise on the liquid fueled rocket engine. He attended Annapolis for the full four years, graduating as an Ensign in the spring of 1952 with a B.S. degree. He then went to flight training at NAS Pensacola from October 1952 to February 1954.