Huntsville visitors can see the spacecraft that carried the late Ken Mattingly to the Moon
One exhibit at the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration is the Apollo 16 Command Module “Casper.” This aging spacecraft is more poignant this week as the nation mourns the loss of Ken Mattingly, the astronaut who helped Apollo 13 crew return safely home. He died at the age of 87. Mattingly flew in that vehicle on the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission in 1972.
Ken Mattingly is perhaps best known for his efforts on the ground that helped bring the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft safely back to Earth, as portrayed by actor Gary Sinise during the 1995 film about the dramatic Moon mission. NASA says Mattingly died Tuesday. Mattingly was to have piloted the command module that would orbit the moon on the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 but he was removed a few days before launch because he'd been exposed to German measles. When an oxygen tank blew on the craft, cutting most power and oxygen, Mattingly was on the ground and helped get the damaged craft and its three crew members back home. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says he made key decisions in the effort. Mattingly finally orbited the moon himself in 1972 on the Apollo 16 mission.
"We lost one of our country's heroes on October 31," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a Thursday statement.
Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II "was key to the success of our Apollo Program, and his shining personality will ensure he is remembered throughout history," Nelson said.
NASA didn't mention where or how Mattingly died. However, The New York Times reported that Mattingly died in Arlington, Virginia.
A former Navy pilot, Mattingly joined NASA in 1966. He helped with development of the spacesuit and backpack for the Apollo moon missions, NASA said.
However, his own first spaceflight only came in 1972 when he orbited the moon as pilot of the Apollo 16 command module, while two other crew members landed on the moon's surface. One of his crewmates was Moonwalker Charlie Duke known for saying “Roger, Eagle we copy you on the ground, we’ve got a bunch of guys turning blue, we’re breathing again, thanks a lot,” following the successful touchdown of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the historic first lunar landing during Apollo 11.
On the trip back to Earth, Mattingly spacewalked to collect film cannisters with photographs he had snapped of the moon's surface.
In later years, Mattingly commanded two space shuttle missions and retired from the agency and the Navy as a rear admiral.
But his most dramatic mission was one that he never flew.
In 1970, Mattingly was supposed to have joined the crew of Apollo 13, piloting the command module. But he was removed from the mission a few days before launch after being exposed to German measles.
He didn't contract the illness but was replaced aboard the mission by John Swigert Jr.
Several days into the mission, an oxygen tank on the spacecraft's service module exploded, knocking out most of the power and oxygen to the command module. The lunar landing was scrapped and NASA began frantic efforts to save Swigert, James Lovell and Fred Haise.
Mattingly, who knew the spacecraft intimately, worked with engineers and others as they analyzed the situation and scrambled to find solutions and pass on instructions to the crew.
The trio of astronauts eventually crowded into the lander, which was designed for only two, and used it as a lifeboat for four days as Apollo 13 swung around the moon and then landed safely on Earth.
Mattingly "stayed behind and provided key real-time decisions to successfully bring home the wounded spacecraft and the crew," NASA's Nelson said.
"One of the many lessons out of all this is starting on day one it was from the very first moment, assume you're going to succeed and don't do anything that gets in the way," Mattingly recalled in an oral history interview for NASA in 2001.