Apollo 13 astronaut Ken Mattingly, who helped crew safely return to Earth, dies at 87

He is known for helping the Apollo 13 crew safely return to Earth after an explosion doomed their lunar mission

ByParadise Afshar, CNN
Friday, November 3, 2023
Ken Mattingly, astronaut who helped save Apollo 13 crew, dies at 87
Apollo 13 astronaut Ken Mattingly is known for helping the crew safely return to Earth after an explosion doomed their lunar mission.

Apollo astronaut Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II, known for helping the crew of Apollo 13 safely return to Earth after an explosion doomed their lunar mission, has died at the age of 87, NASA announced.

"Mattingly was key to the success of our Apollo Program, and his shining personality will ensure he is remembered throughout history," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, calling Mattingly "one of our country's heroes."

Apollo 13 calls mission control, "Houston we've had a problem"

Mattingly died Tuesday, the statement said. A cause of death wasn't provided.

Born in Chicago on March 17, 1936, Mattingly would go on to graduate high school in Miami and earn a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Auburn University in 1958, according to his NASA biography.

Starting his career with the US Navy, Mattingly, who went by Ken and TK, eventually joined the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School as a student, before being chosen by NASA to be part of the astronaut class in 1966, according to the statement.

"Perhaps his most dramatic role at NASA was after exposure to rubella just before the launch of Apollo 13," Nelson said. "He stayed behind and provided key real-time decisions to successfully bring home the wounded spacecraft and the crew of Apollo 13 - NASA astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise."

Actor Gary Sinise portrayed Mattingly in the movie "Apollo 13."

Sinise called it an "honor" to play Mattingly in a post on X earlier this year to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.

Mattingly had "unparalleled skill as a pilot," Nelson said, noting he was a command module pilot for Apollo 16 and spacecraft commander for space shuttle missions STS-4 and STS 51-C. "The commitment to innovation and resilience toward opposition made TK an excellent figure to embody our mission and our nation's admiration."

Mattingly's contributions "allowed for advancements in our learning beyond that of space," Nelson said.

"He described his experience in orbit by saying, 'I had this very palpable fear that if I saw too much, I couldn't remember. It was just so impressive.' He viewed the universe's vastness as an unending forum of possibilities," Nelson said. "As a leader in exploratory missions, TK will be remembered for braving the unknown for the sake of our country's future."

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