Remembering Ken Mattingly |

Final week’s passing of Ken Mattingly, aged 87, reduces the variety of males nonetheless alive to inform tales of orbiting the Moon to eight. An intrepid lunar voyager and house shuttle commander, Mattingly was an obsessive workaholic whose colourful eccentricity belied a eager wit and razor-sharp thoughts. Within the film Apollo 13, his profession took him to Hollywood’s silver display screen.

Thomas Kenneth (“T. Ok.”) Mattingly II was born in Chicago on March 17, 1936, with aviation in his genes — his father labored for Jap Airways. “I constructed each mannequin I may discover,” he associated, “ate each field of cereal that had a paper cut-out airplane on the again.” If he saved out of bother, his father gave him worker passes to fly on a DC-3 airliner. Weekends had been spent at airports, watching planes.

Mattingly graduated in aeronautical engineering from Auburn College in 1958 and joined the Navy, hoping to fly jets. However Lieutenant Commander Glenwood Clark felt guided missiles had been naval aviation’s future and tried to speak the younger ensign out of flight faculty. Mattingly caught to his weapons.

“You’re the dumbest ensign I’ve ever met,” Clark thundered. “Out!”

Mattingly received his wings in 1960, flew A-1H Skyraider assault plane and A-3B Skywarrior strategic bombers, then contemplated his future: a postgraduate diploma or check pilot faculty. He picked the latter, graduating in 1966. That April, NASA tapped him for its fifth astronaut class.

He attained experience on the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM), however a 1969 letter from a buddy in Vietnam gave him pause. How may he keep at NASA, Mattingly mused, when his Navy buddies had been preventing an actual conflict? He went to Chief Astronaut Alan Shepard, intent on returning to lively obligation. Shepard informed him to stay round some time longer.

Ken Mattingly and the story of Apollo 13

T.K. Mattingly trains underwater at the Manned Spacecraft Center. Credit: NASA.
Ken Mattingly trains underwater on the Manned Spacecraft Middle. Credit score: NASA.

In August 1969, Mattingly was named Command Module Pilot (CMP) on Apollo 13, America’s third Moon touchdown. Teamed with Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, he was the primary “rookie” CMP, a job that required him to fly solo in lunar orbit. Earlier CMPs had been veteran astronauts, expert in methods information and rendezvous.

Sadly, destiny had different concepts.

Two weeks earlier than their April 1970 launch, backup crewman Charlie Duke caught German measles, exposing Mattingly to the virus. Medical doctors feared its two-week incubation interval may see Mattingly fall sick in the course of the flight. The political backlash in flying a sick astronaut was unthinkable and delaying Apollo 13 till Might carried a hefty $800,000 price-tag.

As an alternative, NASA switched Mattingly for his backup, Jack Swigert. The character of the position of CMP made it a simple if imperfect resolution. One astronaut in contrast it to dropping Glenn Miller into Tommy Dorsey’s band: each nice musicians however with extremely individualized kinds. After months of coaching, Lovell, Haise and Mattingly knew the inflections of one another’s voices, an indispensable asset on an area mission.

Thomas Ken Mattingly’s NASA portrait from 1971.

Apollo 13 suffered an oxygen tank explosion midway to the Moon, which cancelled the touchdown and crippled the spacecraft, with Lovell, Haise, and Swigert barely getting dwelling alive. Even so, Lovell organized codewords with Mission Management to verify on Mattingly’s well being. As Apollo 13 headed dwelling, he radioed an odd query.

“Are the flowers blooming in Houston?”

“No,” replied Capsule Comunicator (CapCom) Vance Model. “Nonetheless should be winter.”

“Suspicions confirmed.”

The blooms of measles by no means did strike Ken Mattingly. And he performed a key position within the crew’s secure return, serving to mission controllers and engineers to plan a process to chilly begin the Command Module with the methods that had been nonetheless functioning.

Provided choices to fly as CMP with John Younger and Charlie Duke on Apollo 16 or stroll on the Moon on Apollo 18, Mattingly knew that later missions risked cancellation. He took Apollo 16, “a hen within the hand” and a propitious alternative as Apollo 18 certainly met its demise on the sharp finish of the finances axe.

Apollo 16 and the almost-lost wedding ceremony ring

The Apollo 16 command module, piloted solo by T.K. Ketterling. Credit: NASA.
The Apollo 16 command module, piloted solo by Ken Mattingly. Credit score: NASA.

Launched on April 16, 1972, Mattingly savored weightlessness however regretted inadequate time to have a look at the Earth. Orbiting the Moon solo was exhilarating and he used mapping cameras, laser altimeters, mass spectrometers, and his personal eyes to scrutinize an intractable gray panorama, because the strains of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Holst’s The Planets boomed from a tape participant.

Homebound from the Moon, with the Earth a sliver-like crescent, 200,000 miles (320,000 kilometers) away, Mattingly made an 84-minute spacewalk to retrieve movie magazines from cameras mounted contained in the Service Module. He additionally carried out an experiment through which he uncovered microbial specimens to house for 10 minutes, and introduced them again onboard for post-flight evaluation.

Mattingly additionally helped save Younger and Duke’s Moon touchdown. Having undocked the CSM from their Lunar Module (LM), he ready to fireplace the engine to circularize his ship’s orbit. However throughout a scheduled pre-burn check of the gimbals that steered the engine, one of many backup gimbals started oscillating, swiveling the engine backward and forward and inflicting the craft to shudder like a prepare on a rickety monitor. If the CSM’s engine was defective, a touchdown was off the playing cards. The crew had been compelled to attend as Mission Management deliberated whether or not to maneuver ahead with the touchdown.

Few engineers knew that the management alerts to the CSM’s engine for each the first and backup gimbals ran via a single cable. What’s extra, the cable had beforehand been discovered to be too brief, and was susceptible to coming unplugged when the engine swiveled all the best way over. Mattingly discovered this earlier than launch, and thought the cables had been changed. He determined to not point out the cabling as he troubleshooted the gimbal oscillations with Mission Management, however the concern of a double management failure performed on his thoughts. After an almost six-hour delay, Mission Management authorized the touchdown to go forward.

After the flight, chatting to Apollo Program Supervisor Jim McDivitt, he expressed astonishment that Younger and Duke had been allowed to land.

“We didn’t know they went via the identical cable,” McDivitt laughed. “You’re the one one who did. If we’d identified, we wouldn’t have allow you to land!”

The Shuttle Columbia years

Ten years later, in June 1982, Mattingly commanded the House Shuttle Columbia’s fourth orbital mission, STS-4. Flying with Pilot Hank Hartsfield, the duo examined the reusable spaceplane, together with its Canadian robotic arm and house swimsuit. In addition they did a number of secret Air Pressure experiments, their names disguised within the guidelines below cryptic code-words.

Close to the flight’s finish, after packing away the key experiments, Mission Management informed them an Air Pressure officer wished to talk to them on a safe hyperlink. He informed Mattingly to “do Tab November”.

The astronauts exchanged glances. What was Tab November? Navy secrecy precluded them from brazenly asking over the airwaves. Their solely possibility was to unpack the experiments, discover the guidelines and determine the code-word. After a lot looking out, they discovered the glossary entry for Tab November: “Pack every little thing away and safe it.”

This cloak-and-dagger secrecy grew to become extra acute on Mattingly’s second shuttle mission, STS-51C in January 1985, whose crew launched a Pentagon spy satellite tv for pc. The astronauts had secret assembly rooms, a secret secure for his or her paperwork, and a secret cellphone with an unlisted quantity. In all their time coaching collectively, the cellphone rang as soon as. It was a gross sales name.

Mattingly even needed to disguise his coaching locations, submitting flight plans to sure locations, then renting automobiles to succeed in off-the-beaten-track navy websites. On one event, their secretary booked them secretly right into a motel, however upon arrival the crew was astonished to identify an infinite message on the marquee: Welcome, STS-51C Astronauts.

When STS-51C ended, so did Mattingly’s astronaut profession, with a return to lively obligation within the Naval House and Warfare Programs Command. On the Pentagon, he met his commanding officer, Vice Admiral Glenwood Clark, the identical determine who sought to dissuade him from flight faculty a quarter-century earlier than.

“Admiral,” mentioned Mattingly. “Do you bear in mind me?”

Clark appeared him straight within the eye.

“I positive do. You had been the dumbest ensign I ever met!” The 2 males laughed.

Other than flying in house, Mattingly supervised the coaching of the shuttle’s first astronauts. His fanatical consideration to element made him a quasi-comical determine to his fellow astronauts, remembered by Dave Leestma for his motion objects in inexperienced ink and by James van Hoften for his to-do lists, which by no means received shorter. Jim Lovell praised him as “conscientious” and George “Pinky” Nelson joked that Mattingly “didn’t simply see the forest, he noticed each tree.”

When Mattingly landed Columbia on July 4, 1982, the one U.S. house mission to finish on Independence Day, he was welcomed dwelling by President Ronald Reagan, who lauded him as an “inspiration”. However Mattingly had a unique message for his rapt younger viewers. “The place we’re going to go sooner or later,” he mentioned, “is one thing that relies on you.”


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