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American astronaut Thomas Mattingly dies at the age of 87

American astronaut Thomas Mattingly dies at the age of 87

Astronaut Thomas Mattingly, who helped safely return the ill-fated Apollo 13 crew through his efforts from the ground control cell, died Tuesday at the age of 87, NASA announced Thursday.

While scheduled to fly the command module for the Apollo 13 flight, Thomas Mattingly — also known as Ken Mattingly — was grounded 72 hours before launch after contracting rubella, NASA chief Bill Nelson said.

In April 1970, during the mission, an explosion crippled the spacecraft on its way to the Moon. Mattingly, who did not become ill, went to mission control and developed procedures to conserve energy so the vehicle could re-enter the atmosphere, saving the lives of astronauts James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise aboard the module.

The 1995 movie “Apollo 13,” in which Gary Sinise played Mattingly, popularized the mission of the same name.

Rescued against his will, the astronaut began his career as a naval aviation pilot before being selected to become an astronaut in 1966.

At NASA, he was the command module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission and mission commander for two space shuttles.

“Thomas’ contributions have advanced our learning far beyond space,” Nelson said.

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