Last weekend, accompanied by our massive 8ft Saturn V model rocket we ventured north to Pontefract in search of Apollo Astronaut Ken Mattingly. “A strange place to find a veteran NASA astronaut,” you may say, but thanks to a wonderful event called Space Lectures (www.space-lectures.com) Pontefract has become the biannual destination for many a spacey person in search of a taste of the golden age of human space exploration.
Space lectures organises not-for-profit presentations by astronauts and provides the opportunity for people to meet and listen to first hand, the astronauts experiences of space.
If you have seen the Tom Hanks film “Apollo 13” Thomas Kenneth Mattingly is the astronaut from that ill-fated Apollo mission who was abruptly removed from the flight just 3 days before the launch because he was exposed to the measles. His role as Command Module Pilot would have been to stay in orbit of the Moon while the other 2 crew members landed on the surface in the spidery “Lunar Module”. The NASA doctors had predicted that he was due to come down with the measles while on his own orbiting the Moon and so it was deemed too dangerous a risk for him to travel. He never actually contracted the measles but this fateful decision lead him to play a critical role in bringing the Apollo 13 crew safely back to Earth. Two years later on Apollo 16, Ken Mattingly successfully became one of only 24 people that have ever travelled to the Moon.
The weekend began with a fine friday night dinner celebrating 44th Anniversary of the Apollo 13 launch with Ken himself and 120 other spacey people. Many of the attendees were simply space enthusiasts, still excited by the moon missions experienced in their childhood or like us, missed out on it all and just want to know more. Our appetites were whet with a short speech from Ken and then all sights were set on the Saturday afternoon event held at Carlton Secondary school’s lecture theatre.
In front of an audience of 400 Ken spoke with insight, humour and enthusiasm recalling his experiences of the Apollo 13 and Apollo 16 missions with such clarity it was as if they had happened only yesterday. Life during the Apollo moon missions was intense, serious and dangerous but there was always room for a bit of fun. Apparently before he had been removed from the Apollo 13 mission Ken’s 3 man crew had planned to use a pre-recorded tape to fool Mission Control into thinking that he had left the Command Module to orbit the Moon by itself and had travelled with his other 2 crew members in the Lunar Module to land on the Moon!
During the Apollo 16 mission Mattingly spent 3 days alone orbiting the Moon, studying the surface with cameras and instruments and readying the craft for the return of the other 2 crew members and their collection of moon rocks. He interestingly described the Moon as a relatively boring desolate place where “…all the craters looked the same,” but describing the view of Earth from space was a very different matter; “There is never enough time for gazing at the Earth, and your thoughts are always, I gotta come back and do more of this!”
Afterwards, Ken kindly spent some time talking to our kids (which they think is amazing!) and he thanked us for bringing along our 8ft Saturn V model which was displayed on the stage behind him during the lecture. He referred to it throughout his talk and even signed his name on it alongside Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Al Worden!
We had a fantastic weekend and are really thankful to Ken Mattingly for travelling over to the UK to speak to us all and the wonderful Space Lectures team for organising the event. We look froward to the next one in November!
(Thanks also to Rick Mulheirn for some of the pictures)