In Memoriam: Thomas Mattingly, the Man Who Brought Apollo 13 Home

Apollo 13 Hero, Astronaut Thomas Mattingly, Remembered for Extraordinary Contributions

Renowned astronaut (Thomas Mattingly) Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II, celebrated for his pivotal role in ensuring the safe return of the Apollo 13 mission to Earth after an unexpected explosion, has passed away at the age of 87, as confirmed by NASA.

Mattingly’s legacy in the Apollo Program is nothing short of legendary, and his remarkable personality will forever be etched in history, according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who hailed Mattingly as “one of our country’s heroes.”

Mattingly’s demise occurred on Tuesday, though the specific cause of his passing has not been disclosed.

Thomas Mattingly

Born in Chicago on March 17, 1936, Mattingly went on to graduate from high school in Miami, eventually earning an Aeronautical Engineering degree from Auburn University in 1958, a feat highlighted in his NASA biography.

Commencing his career with the US Navy, Mattingly, known affectionately as Ken and TK, later joined the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School as a student before being selected by NASA as part of the 1966 astronaut class, as detailed in the official statement.

Arguably, Mattingly’s most heroic role at NASA unfolded when he was exposed to rubella just before the scheduled launch of Apollo 13. In an act of extraordinary courage and dedication, he chose to remain behind, offering crucial real-time decisions that ultimately ensured the safe return of the stricken spacecraft and its valiant crew, comprised of NASA astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise.

Notably, Mattingly’s heroism was later immortalized on the silver screen when acclaimed actor Gary Sinise portrayed him in the movie “Apollo 13.” Sinise, paying tribute, expressed that it was an “honor” to bring Mattingly’s story to life, commemorating the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.

Thomas Mattingly

Mattingly’s extraordinary prowess as a pilot was a cornerstone of his career, as emphasized by Nelson. He served as a command module pilot for Apollo 16 and a spacecraft commander for space shuttle missions STS-4 and STS 51-C. His unwavering commitment to innovation and resilience in the face of adversity made him a distinguished figure in representing our nation’s mission and garnering our nation’s admiration.

Mattingly’s substantial contributions extended far beyond the realm of space exploration, facilitating advances in our understanding of the universe. According to Nelson, Mattingly once shared his moments in space, saying “I had this very palpable fear that if I saw too much, I couldn’t remember. It was just so impressive.” He regarded the boundless cosmos as an infinite wellspring of potential. As a trailblazer in exploratory missions, TK Mattingly will be forever remembered for his audacious forays into the unknown, all in the pursuit of our country’s future.


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