Monday November 06th 2023, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Family,History

The story of Jim Mattingly’s role in Apollo 13 was in the news again with his death: the astronaut who got exposed to Rubella just before the flight, found himself grounded for it, and then from mission control helped work out a way to rescue the men who did go up after one of their oxygen tanks exploded and damaged the module.

Which got me searching: I knew it was Apollo and I knew the summer it happened because I was sixteen but that they didn’t land on the moon. No, I wanted to argue with my screen, 17 was NOT the last mission with the Apollo name on it.

Found it. The Apollo-Soyuz flight in July ’75.

My aunt had married into the family that included the man who would become head of NASA at that time.

Which is how my father, my little sister, and I, however improbably, somehow found ourselves with invitations to attend that 1975 launch in Florida. In person.

There were bleachers set up just like any bleachers anywhere. You had to get there way early. You had to agree to go absolutely no closer and no exploring (I remembering looking longingly at the shade under the trees over yonder), and we were a mile away from the actual launch pad for the sake of our safety.

The Florida heat and sun were something else and I remember the intense sunburn–and wondering whether some of it had come from the intensity in the flames at takeoff. We were surrounded by actual VIPs, but I have no memory of recognizing anyone’s faces, just that I still couldn’t believe we got to do this.

But I do remember the sound and then our necks craning up, and up, and up, and up… till at last it was gone from us.

And then the kicker: there was a toll road with two toll booths along it to get to NASA. On the way back out, all those I assume hundreds of cars (that’s a guess, it felt like thousands) were all lined up to pay those two silly sets of tolls with my dad grousing, Why don’t they just make everybody pay both at one booth and then open up the traffic and let it go? It made no sense.

But we’d been there. We got to go. We got to see it. We were there.

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Steve’s dad worked on the Apollo program as electrical inspector for the Lunar Landing Module. He spent a lot of time at work trying to remember what resisters were where during Apollo 13. And, yes, Mattingly played a major role in getting folks home safely.

Locals used to go out in small boats to watch the launches.

Comment by Anne 11.07.23 @ 12:42 am

Watched the Apollo 13 movie (again) on the weekend. Tom Hanks was so good.
You need to read Chris Hadfield’s books – first one is The Apollo Murders. So. Much. Detail.

Comment by Chris+S+in+Canada 11.07.23 @ 7:28 am

Isn’t it funny what you remember? The toll road, of all things! An exciting memory contrasted with the mundane.

Comment by NGS 11.07.23 @ 7:46 am

So neat that you got to go! What a memory.

Comment by ccr in MA 11.07.23 @ 8:43 am

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