Mattingly did not participate in the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight at the time, because rubella appeared in his family just before. He only looked at the moon himself in 1972 as part of the Apollo 16 mission.
Apollo 16 crew. From left: Thomas K. Mattingly II – Command Module Pilot, John W. Young – Commander, Charles M. Duke Jr. – lunar module pilot.
According to NASA, Thomas K. Mattingly began his career in the US Navy where he flew a variety of aircraft on many missions. He then joined the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School as a student, from where NASA selected him to join the astronaut group in 1966. Prior to his spaceflight, he assisted in the Apollo program, working as a member of the astronaut support crew and leading the development of the Apollo space suit and backpack.
“Perhaps his most dramatic role at NASA came after he was exposed to rubella just before the launch of Apollo 13. However, as part of the ground team, he prepared key real-time decisions that ensured the successful return home of the damaged ship and the Apollo 13 crew of James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise,” NASA said in a statement.
He himself went into space for the first time during the Apollo 16 mission as a command module pilot. This fifth manned expedition to reach the surface of the Moon took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Spaceport on April 16, 1972, and Apollo 16 reached its destination three days later.
He described his experience in orbit by saying, “I had a very palpable fear that if I saw too much, I wouldn’t be able to remember it. It was just so impressive.’
Astronauts John Young and Charles Duke set off for the lunar surface in the Orion lunar module on April 21, while Mattingly waited for them in orbit. They spent two days, nineteen hours and three minutes on the surface of the moon, the second longest stay.
This is one of the few points of interest associated with the Apollo 16 mission. Perhaps the only exception is the landing site, which became a geologically interesting lunar highland, while previous expeditions had landed in the regions of the lunar seas. Apart from minor difficulties, the flight and the stay on the moon went smoothly, and the astronauts more or less continued the work of their predecessors. They used a lunar rover (the Apollo 15 crew had already done that before them) or mined soil samples (they brought 98 kilograms of rocks to Earth).
The remembered first of the Apollo 16 flight thus remains especially the highest speed achieved on its surface, because Charles Duke drove the lunar rover at 17 kilometers per hour. “I remember how it threw us… The area where we were is quite wild,” later recalled the astronaut, for whom it was the first and last expedition into space.
His colleagues Young and Mattingly, unlike him, remained in the services of NASA and later found employment in the first flights of space shuttles. Thus, Thomas K. Mattingly was the spacecraft commander during the shuttle missions STS-4 and STS 51-C.