Remembered Hero: Ken Mattingly, Savior of Apollo 13 Astronauts, Dies at 87

Remembering Astronaut Ken Mattingly: A Hero of Apollo 13

NASA announced the passing of astronaut Ken Mattingly, who played a crucial role on the ground in safely returning the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft to Earth. Mattingly, who joined NASA in 1966, passed away at the age of 87 on October 31, 2023. His extraordinary contributions to the success of the Apollo Program will forever be remembered.

Mattingly’s Remarkable Career at NASA

Ken Mattingly, a former Navy pilot, dedicated his career to NASA. He was instrumental in the development of the spacesuit and backpack for the Apollo moon missions. However, it wasn’t until 1972 that Mattingly had his own spaceflight experience. As the pilot of the Apollo 16 command module, he orbited the moon while two crew members landed on its surface.

During the journey back to Earth, Mattingly embarked on a spacewalk to collect film cannisters containing photographs he had taken of the moon’s surface. His expertise and familiarity with the spacecraft were evident throughout his career.

Mattingly continued to make significant contributions to space exploration, commanding two space shuttle missions before retiring from both NASA and the Navy as a rear admiral.

Apollo 13: Mattingly’s Unforgettable Mission

One of the most dramatic chapters in Mattingly’s career was his involvement with the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970. Initially scheduled to pilot the command module, Mattingly was removed from the mission just days before launch due to exposure to German measles. Although he did not contract the illness, he was replaced by John Swigert Jr.

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A few days into the mission, disaster struck when an oxygen tank on the service module exploded, severely damaging the spacecraft. With most of the power and oxygen depleted, the lunar landing was abandoned, and NASA scrambled to find solutions to save the crew – Swigert, James Lovell, and Fred Haise.

Mattingly, despite not being on board, played a crucial role by working closely with engineers and analyzing the situation to find solutions. He relayed instructions to the crew, ensuring their safety and the successful return of the damaged spacecraft. The crew had to squeeze into the lander, which was designed for only two astronauts, and used it as a makeshift lifeboat for four days before making a safe landing back on Earth.

Reflecting on the mission, Mattingly shared, “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’s Legacy and Depictions in Popular Culture

Mattingly’s contributions to the Apollo 13 mission were immortalized in the book “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13” co-authored by James Lovell. The gripping story was later adapted into the film “Apollo 13,” with actor Gary Sinise portraying Mattingly.

In Conclusion

Ken Mattingly, a true hero of the Apollo 13 mission, will be remembered for his remarkable dedication to the NASA space program. His ingenuity and perseverance played a vital role in the safe return of the damaged spacecraft and its crew. Mattingly’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations of astronauts as they embark on the next frontier of space exploration.

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