Rear Admiral Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II died October 31, 2021, at the age of 87.
Ironically, Admiral Mattingly is best-remembered for not going to the moon. He was the man who was supposed to be part of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, but was scrubbed from the mission 72 hours before launch, because he was exposed to rubella (German measles).
British poet John Milton’s most quoted line is probably the conclusion of his sonnet “On His Blindness,” “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Mattingly proved the truth of that during Apollo 13’s dangerous voyage home, Mattingly helped from Mission Control. The New York Times reported “When an explosion crippled the spacecraft during its flight to the moon, Commander Mattingly—then the best trained man to fly the command module — went to work at Mission Control devising procedures that the astronauts used to help them return to the earth safely.”
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, “Perhaps his most dramatic role at NASA was after exposure to rubella just before the launch of Apollo 13 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.”
After Mattingly was exposed to rubella, he could not risk going into space and exposing, possibly infecting, the rest of the crew, so the backup pilot,” John L. Swigert Jr., a civilian, took his seat.” At the time I could not think of anything more devastating than having trained for a lunar mission, and at the last minute, not being permitted to go. Especially, when it turned out that although he had been exposed to rubella, he did not contract it.
He eventually spent 21 days, four hours, 34 minutes in space, of which one hour, twenty-three minutes were spent EVA (extra-vehicular activity). He was part of Apollo 16, which went to the Moon, although Mattingly himself did not set foot on the moon. He orbited in the command capsule, taking pictures and operating scientific equipment. During the trip home, Mattingly went EVA for over an hour to retrieve film cassettes from the exterior of the service module. He also participated in two space shuttle missions.
Like most early astronauts, Admiral Mattingly was a military test pilot who originally trained as an engineer. Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II was born in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, on March 17, 1936. He died October 31, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia. He grew up in Hia;eah, Florida and attended Miami Edison High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama in 1958. He was commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy in 1958. He earned his aviator’s wings in 1960. In 1966 he was selected for astronaut training.
Mattingly served as support crew for Apollo 8 in 1968.. He was CAPCOM, the capsule communicator for Apollo 8. He trained as backup Command Module Pilot for Apollo 11. In 1982 he commanded the fourth and final orbital test flight of space shuttle Columbia, and later became commander of the space shuttle Discovery in 1985. He retired from NASA in 1985. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 1986.
Mattingly married Elizabeth Daily in 1970. They were blessed with one child. We thank Admiral Mattingly for his service and offer our comfort and condolences to his family. He was a national hero.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.