Ken Mattingly cause of death: Apollo 16 astronaut dies at 87?

Ken Mattingly

Ken Mattingly, an American astronaut best known for his role in securing the safe return of NASA’s Apollo 13 mission, has died at the age of 87 .

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

“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 in a statement, calling Mattingly “one of our country’s heroes.”

Ken Mattingly
Apollo astronaut Ken Mattingly dies aged 87

Ken Mattingly cause of death

Ken Mattingly died Tuesday, the statement said. A cause of death wasn’t provided.

Who was Ken Mattingly?

Born Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II in Chicago on March 17, 1936, Mattingly would go on to graduate high school in Miami and earn a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Auburn University in 1958, according to his NASA biography.

Starting his career with the US Navy, Mattingly, who went by Ken and TK, eventually joined the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School as a student, before being chosen by NASA to be part of the astronaut class in 1966, according to the statement.

“Perhaps his most dramatic role at NASA was after exposure to rubella just before the launch of Apollo 13,” Nelson said. “He stayed behind and provided key real-time decisions to successfully bring home the wounded spacecraft and the crew of Apollo 13 – NASA astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise.”

Ken Mattingly
Astronaut Thomas Mattingly II celebrates the successful rescue of the Apollo 13 spacecraft and crew with a box of cigars at the Mission Control of the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. – Space Frontiers/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Actor Gary Sinise portrayed Mattingly in the movie “Apollo 13.”

Sinise called it an “honor” to play Mattingly in a post on X earlier this year to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission.

Mattingly had “unparalleled skill as a pilot,” Nelson said, noting he was a command module pilot for Apollo 16 and spacecraft commander for space shuttle missions STS-4 and STS 51-C. “The commitment to innovation and resilience toward opposition made TK an excellent figure to embody our mission and our nation’s admiration.”

Ken Mattingly’s contributions “allowed for advancements in our learning beyond that of space,” Nelson said.

 Ken Mattingly
Apollo 16 astronauts (L-R) Charles M Duke, John W Young, and Thomas K Mattingly II take a break during a training exercise in preparation for the Lunar Landing mission, in February 1972. – UPI/Bettmann/Getty Images

“He described his experience in orbit by saying, ‘I had this very palpable fear that if I saw too much, I couldn’t remember. It was just so impressive.’

He viewed the universe’s vastness as an unending forum of possibilities,” Nelson said. “As a leader in exploratory missions, TK will be remembered for braving the unknown for the sake of our country’s future.”

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