From Apollo to Space Shuttle, Thomas K Mattingly's stellar journey ends at 87

Dodged Apollo 13 disaster because of rubella, but helped to rescue the crew

Obit Thomas K Mattingly II, command module pilot of Apollo 16 and commander of two Space Shuttle missions, has died aged 87.

Mattingly was a member of the fifth astronaut group selected by NASA in 1966. Prior to his selection, he flew with the US Navy before joining the US Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School. He applied for the US Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program but was rejected. NASA, however, was keen to have him as part of the astronaut corps and, following an interview with John Young and Michael Collins, Mattingly was selected.

In many ways, his selection was fortunate. Of the 19 astronauts in his group, more than half flew to the Moon, and several would also fly to Skylab and on the Space Shuttle. Mattingly himself was only one of two astronauts to both fly to the Moon as well as launch on the Space Shuttle.

Ken Mattingly during the Apollo 13 mission (credit: NASA)

Astronaut Thomas K (Ken) Mattingly II, left, pictured in Mission Control during the launch of Apollo 13 (pic: NASA)

Mattingly was on the support crew for Apollo 8 and was one of the backups for Apollo 11. He also represented the astronaut corps during the development and testing of the Apollo spacesuit and backpack.

However, many will know him for Apollo 13. Mattingly was supposed to be the command module pilot for the mission but was replaced by the backup pilot, Jack Swigert, three days before the flight after being exposed to rubella.

Although the film adaptation of the Apollo 13 mission depicted Mattingly as somewhat of a composite character, he played a significant role in the rescue of the crew, even though he was not onboard when the explosion that crippled the spacecraft occurred.

Instead, Mattingly was switched to Apollo 16, which was commanded by John Young and included Charlie Duke as lunar module pilot. Mattingly remained orbiting in the command module as Young and Duke descended in the lunar module, Orion. During the mission, Mattingly would also perform an extravehicular activity (EVA) to retrieve film cassettes from the Apollo service module. Occurring during the journey back to Earth, the excursion is one of only three deep space EVAs to have taken place to date.

Mattingly's next flight to space was aboard the Space Shuttle on STS-4 in 1982, having served as backup commander for STS-2 and STS-3. It was the last flight to include just two astronauts – being a final "test" of NASA's new system – and was also notable for the failure to recover the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) due to problems with the parachutes. He would return to space one more time in 1985, commanding Space Shuttle Discovery and STS-51-C for a mostly classified mission.

Following his final mission, Mattingly retired from NASA and later the US Navy, having achieved the two-star rank of Rear Admiral. He spent some time in the private sector, working on programs including Grumman's Space Station Support division and the X-33 project. ®

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