Thomas K. Mattingly II, Esteemed Apollo 13 Support Astronaut, Passes Away at 87

by Gabriel Martinez
Ken Mattingly Apollo 13

Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II, renowned for his pivotal support role during the Apollo 13 crisis, has passed away, as confirmed by NASA. He was 87 years of age.

“It is with a profound sense of loss that we mark the passing of one of our nation’s finest on October 31,” remarked NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Thursday.

“Mattingly’s indispensable contributions to the Apollo Program were monumental, and his vibrant spirit will be etched in the annals of history,” Nelson added.

The specifics of Mattingly’s passing, including the location and cause, were not disclosed by NASA. The New York Times has cited Arlington, Virginia, as the place of his death.

Mattingly’s career with NASA commenced in 1966 after serving as a Navy pilot. His work was instrumental in the development of the spacesuit and backpack used during the Apollo lunar expeditions, according to NASA.

His inaugural journey into space occurred in 1972 as the command module pilot for Apollo 16, where he circumnavigated the moon. While his colleagues descended to the lunar surface, Mattingly executed a spacewalk to retrieve film canisters containing lunar photographs.

Mattingly’s subsequent years saw him at the helm of two space shuttle missions before retiring with the rank of rear admiral from both NASA and the Navy.

His most memorable contribution, however, was during a mission he ultimately did not fly: Apollo 13 in 1970. Slated to pilot the command module, Mattingly was reassigned just days before launch due to exposure to German measles.

Although he never developed the disease, John Swigert Jr. took his place. When an oxygen tank exploded on the service module mid-mission, jeopardizing the lives of astronauts Swigert, James Lovell, and Fred Haise and cancelling the lunar landing, Mattingly was integral to the ground team’s efforts to devise a survival strategy.

Deeply familiar with the spacecraft, Mattingly collaborated with engineers to troubleshoot the crisis and relay crucial guidance to the crew.

The astronauts, huddled in the lunar lander repurposed as a makeshift “lifeboat,” managed to navigate around the moon and return safely to Earth, thanks in large part to Mattingly’s decisive input from mission control.

Reflecting on the incident, Mattingly emphasized the importance of a relentless pursuit of success from the outset, a sentiment he shared in a 2001 oral history interview for NASA.

The harrowing tale of Apollo 13 was chronicled in the 1994 book “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13” by astronaut James Lovell and in the subsequent 1995 film adaptation “Apollo 13,” with actor Gary Sinise portraying Mattingly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Ken Mattingly Apollo 13

Who was Ken Mattingly?

Ken Mattingly was an astronaut well-known for his integral role in the ground-based team that facilitated the safe return of the Apollo 13 mission after an in-flight crisis. He joined NASA in 1966, was pivotal in the development of space equipment for the Apollo missions, and later became a command module pilot for Apollo 16. Mattingly also commanded two Space Shuttle missions before retiring.

What is Ken Mattingly best remembered for?

Ken Mattingly is best remembered for the critical role he played during the Apollo 13 mission, despite not flying on it. He worked with engineers to solve the crisis that occurred when an oxygen tank exploded on the spacecraft, helping to guide the crew to a safe return to Earth.

When did Ken Mattingly pass away?

Ken Mattingly passed away on October 31, at the age of 87.

How did Ken Mattingly contribute to the Apollo 13 mission?

Ken Mattingly contributed to the Apollo 13 mission by collaborating with engineers and mission control in devising a successful strategy to bring the astronauts home after the service module’s oxygen tank exploded. His knowledge of the spacecraft was crucial in this unexpected crisis.

Was Ken Mattingly on the Apollo 13 spacecraft during its flight?

No, Ken Mattingly was not on the Apollo 13 spacecraft during its flight. He was removed from the crew a few days before the launch due to exposure to German measles and was replaced by John Swigert Jr. His role became that of a vital support member from the ground.

In what other missions did Ken Mattingly participate?

Ken Mattingly orbited the moon as the command module pilot of Apollo 16 in 1972 and later commanded two Space Shuttle missions before his retirement.

How has Ken Mattingly’s story been shared with the public?

Ken Mattingly’s story has been shared with the public through the 1994 book “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13,” co-authored by astronaut James Lovell, and the 1995 movie “Apollo 13,” where actor Gary Sinise portrayed Mattingly.

More about Ken Mattingly Apollo 13

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SpaceJunkie91 November 4, 2023 - 1:14 pm

can’t believe Mattingly is gone, grew up hearing stories about the legends of Apollo. They say not all heroes wear capes, but he sure did wear a spacesuit

Tom Reynolds November 4, 2023 - 6:57 pm

just heard about Ken Mattingly, such a huge loss for the space community and our nation, He did so much behind the scenes for Apollo 13, his legacy will live on forever

Mike_in_Orlando November 4, 2023 - 10:53 pm

wow, end of an era with Mattingly passing away, apollo 13 would’ve had a much different ending without him, that’s for sure.

JessicaP November 5, 2023 - 4:22 am

Really sad to hear about Mattingly’s passing, he was part of that golden era of space exploration, A true hero. These guys were made of something else

HistoryBuffEd November 5, 2023 - 5:22 am

So many ppl remember the astronauts who walked on the moon but Mattingly should be remembered just as much. His work with the Apollo suits and backpacks was groundbreaking. R.I.P


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