Thomas K. Mattingly, a key commander during the Apollo 16 mission to the moon, died at age 87, NASA announced Thursday

Mattingly, known as Ken or T.K., died on Oct. 31, NASA confirmed in a statement.

“NASA astronaut TK 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. 

A skilled pilot, Mattingly was hailed for his accomplishments as the command module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission that landed on the moon in 1972. During that mission, the astronaut team was able to collect samples from the lunar highlands and achieve all its major objectives.

But he was also well known for being removed from the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew 72 hours before its scheduled launch.

Mattingly was removed at the last minute after exposure to German measles. Backup command module pilot Jack Swigert replaced Mattingly. On  April 11, 1970, the Apollo 13 mission blasted off with Swigert at the helm and astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise. 

Apollo 13 Astronauts Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, and Ken Mattingly.
The original Apollo 13 crew, from left to right: Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Ken Mattingly. Mattingly could not go on the mission, which narrowly avoided tragedy when its spacecraft malfunctioned and had to return to Earth without landing on the moon. Bettmann / Getty Images

Almost 56 hours after take off, oxygen tank No. 2 exploded on Apollo 13, causing tank No. 1 to fail as well. “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” Lovell famously called down to mission control. 

Mattingly played an important role in helping bring the crew back to Earth. “He stayed behind and provided key real-time decisions to successfully bring home the wounded spacecraft and the crew of Apollo 13,” Nelson said in the statement. 

Born in Chicago, Mattingly began his career with the U.S. Navy in 1958, and became a pilot two years later. He was deployed on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt from which he flew planes for two years.

In 1966, NASA chose him to be one of 19 astronauts in that year’s class. He served as a member of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 8 and 11 missions, and was instrumental in the development and testing of the Apollo spacesuit and backpack. 

After being a command module pilot for the Apollo Program, he had a stretch almost of almost a decade before he took the helm again. In 1982 and 1985, Mattingly was the spacecraft commander for two space shuttle missions and he flew 504 hours in space.

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