AUBURN – NASA will honor astronaut Thomas K. “TK” Mattingly on March 26 with the Ambassador of Exploration Award for his contributions to the U.S. space program. Mattingly, an Auburn University alumnus, will receive the award in a 1 p.m. ceremony in the Lowe Grand Foyer of Auburn’s Shelby Center for Engineering Technology.
NASA is giving this award to the first generation of explorers in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs for helping America realize its goal of going to the moon. The award is a moon rock encased in Lucite and mounted for public display. The rock is part of the 842 pounds of lunar samples collected during the six Apollo expeditions from 1969 to 1972.
“TK is a beloved member of the Auburn family and a true friend of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering,” said Dean of Engineering Larry Benefield. “He is proof of what an Auburn engineering graduate can become, and we appreciate his consideration of Auburn when choosing how to display this distinguished honor.”
Mattingly is one of six Auburn graduates who became astronauts, four of whom are engineers. Also, three Auburn engineering graduates have served as directors of the Kennedy Space Center.
Mattingly will give a talk about his life and experiences at 2 p.m. in Hartley Auditorium, 1103 Shelby Center. At a reception following the talk, he will meet and answer questions from members of the Auburn family.
Mattingly was born in Chicago and received his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Auburn University in 1958. He was the command module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission. He also was designated command module pilot for the Apollo 13 flight but was removed from flight status 72 hours prior to the scheduled launch because of exposure to the German measles. Mattingly is one of a few Apollo astronauts who also flew aboard the space shuttle. He was the shuttle commander on missions STS-4 and STS 51-C.
While not on the Apollo 13 flight, he participated in the ground crew’s efforts to save his fellow astronauts from near tragedy, an episode depicted in the film, “Apollo 13.” Mattingly is also known for his other contributions to America’s first treks into space, including his role in the development of the first lunar space suit and backpack.
After receiving his degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn, Mattingly was commissioned as a naval officer in 1958. One of the select individuals chosen for the Apollo Space Program, he was a vital member of the support crews for the first lunar orbit and the first lunar landing. A key member of the Apollo team, he not only was instrumental in the recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, he also orbited the moon with the Apollo 16 mission.
Mattingly joined the Space Shuttle program in 1972, commanding two shuttle missions. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1985 and named director of the Navy’s Space and Sensor Systems Program Directorate. In 1989, he retired from government service to focus on the commercialization of space, working for companies such as Grumman, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.
For additional biographical information about Mattingly, visit: http://www11.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/mattingly-tk.html. For information and pictures of the NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/AofEphotos.html.
(Contributed by Sara Borchik.)