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Apollo 16 astronaut dead at 87

Three astronauts flew to the Moon in this Apollo 16 capsule in 1972. (Lee Roop/
November 05, 2023

The stars seem a little less bright today as the world bids farewell to an emblematic figure of space exploration. Thomas K. Mattingly, whose hands steered the command module of Apollo 16 and who played a pivotal role in the iconic Apollo space program, has died at age 87, NASA confirms.

This storied astronaut’s journey from Navy cadet to NASA hero encapsulates a remarkable era of space exploration and serves as an enduring legacy of human achievement.

NASA paid tribute to Mattingly’s extraordinary contributions after confirming his passing on Thursday.

“We lost one of our country’s heroes on Oct. 31. NASA astronaut TK Mattingly was key to the success of our Apollo Program, and his shining personality will ensure he is remembered throughout history,” the space agency stated.

His brush with the Apollo 13 mission is particularly noted, as he was pulled from the crew due to German measles exposure, a move that may have spared him from the mission’s notorious in-space ordeal.

Mattingly’s adventure started in the U.S. Navy in 1958, reaching the skies as a pilot by 1960. His story intertwined with NASA’s as part of the esteemed 1966 astronaut class.

While he provided critical support for the groundbreaking Apollo 8 and 11 missions, his hands-on work with the Apollo spacesuit and backpack remains a highlight of his early contributions.

Beyond the moon missions, Mattingly’s legacy extended to the nascent Space Shuttle program. With two command stints on shuttle missions in 1982 and 1985, he accrued over 500 hours in orbit, cementing his status as a stalwart of American space history.

As the news of Thomas K. Mattingly’s death reverberates across the nation, tributes pour in, recognizing not just the astronaut but the man whose dedication and courage inspired a generation to look skyward.

His life and career remain a testament to the spirit of exploration and the remarkable achievements of the Apollo era, echoing NASA’s sentiments of remembrance for a true pioneer who helped humanity reach the stars.