From watching football games at then-Cliff Hare Stadium in Auburn to 64 orbits around the moon is a long journey, but it was the life journey of Ken Mattingly – Auburn grad, Navy Rear Admiral and lunar astronaut. Mattingly died on October 31 at age 87. He lived a long and abundant life.
When Mattingly was getting his undergrad degree at Auburn, it was in the early years of the coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan era. Mattingly lived to see a lot since then, including a view of the moon that few have ever seen.
Mattingly had been scheduled to be on the famous Apollo 13 mission, which became a near-miss to tragedy and an inspiring rescue story and movie. He was bumped at the last minute because he had been exposed to German Measles, which he never actually contracted.
It turned out to be a blessing for all that Mattingly was not aboard and was in the Houston control room. Apollo 13 was forced to return to Earth following a devastating explosion on the moon. Mattingly performed analysis and talked the flight safely back to Earth from the control room. Only a person with hands-on knowledge of the Apollo aircraft could likely have done that.
The movie, "Apollo 13," dramatized the near tragedy and heroic actions by Mattingly and others to save the three astronauts. The world remembers the saying, "Houston, we have a problem."
Actor Gary Sinise played the part of Mattingly.
Mattingly was then scheduled as Commander of Apollo 16, which made 64 orbits of the moon.
Mattingly was born in Chicago in 1936, just before President Franklin Roosevelt ran in his first re-election campaign. He came by his love of flight naturally - his father was a pilot for Eastern Airlines, and the family moved to Hialeah, Fla., when Ken Mattingly was a toddler. Ken was a high school graduate of Edison High School for the gifted.
At Auburn, Mattingly majored in aeronautical engineering and was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He was later inducted into the Delta Tau Delta Hall of Fame.
He joined the Navy in 1958 and, by 1960, had earned his aviator wings. He had a bumpy road to being admitted to the astronaut program but persisted.
Mattingly was part of a stellar and growing list of Auburn University graduates who achieved unusual success outside of athletics, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Gov. Kay Ivey, YellaWood founder Jimmy Rane, writer Cynthia Tucker and others.
One huge success who had flunked out of Auburn was the late Jimmy Buffett, who did not know how to play guitar but learned during his time at Auburn.
No services have been announced for Mattingly at this time. A memorial at Auburn University will be held later.
Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].
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