Had a great opportunity yesterday, as my dad and I headed down to Pontefract to hear a lecture by a very special man – Thomas Kenneth “Ken” Mattingly, one of only 24 men ever to go to the Moon.
If you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13, you’ll already know something of Mattingly’s role in the Apollo program. Played by Gary Sinise in the film, he was originally the command module pilot of Apollo 13, but was dropped at the last minute as doctors feared he was about to come down with German measles (which he never did). Instead, Mattingly made his first spaceflight in April 1972, going into lunar orbit as command module pilot of Apollo 16. He then stayed at NASA long enough to command two missions of the Space Shuttle (which, incidentally, was approved by Congress while he was flying on Apollo 16 – he and his mission commander, John Young, were the only two astronauts who both went to the Moon and flew the Shuttle).
Ken was an excellent, engaging speaker with plenty to say, both when giving his lecture and answering questions afterwards. He started by giving an overview of what led up to Project Apollo, before talking a bit about the experience of going into space itself: the launch of the Saturn V (according to Ken, the difference between a Saturn V launch and a Space Shuttle launch is “Sheer terror vs ‘Isn’t this cool?'”), the feeling of weightlessness for the first time, looking down on the Earth, and having to spend days in a rather small spacecraft with two other men. I can tell you, it’s quite something to hear about these things from somebody who’s actually done it.
Ironically, a large portion of the lecture was devoted to the mission that Ken didn’t actually get to go on, Apollo 13. He explained how Gary Sinise’s performance didn’t come close to depicting how depressed he felt upon being dropped, and placed focus on just how dedicated all the people on the ground were to getting the astronauts home alive, and how much of a team effort it really was.
It was a brilliant afternoon, so thank you to Ken Mattingly, Ken Willoughby and Space Lectures for this opportunity!