Ken Mattingly, a former astronaut from the Apollo 16 mission who completed an orbit around the moon, passes away at the age of 87.

Ken Mattingly, a former astronaut from the Apollo 16 mission who completed an orbit around the moon, passes away at the age of 87.

NASA reported Thursday that Thomas K. Mattingly, a vital leader in the Apollo 16 expedition to the moon, passed away at the age of 87.

NASA has confirmed that Mattingly, also known as Ken or T.K., passed away on October 31.

“NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised TK Mattingly, a crucial member of the Apollo Program, for his invaluable contributions and lasting impact on history,” according to a statement from NASA.

1969 Portrait - Astronaut Thomas K. Mattingly II

Thomas K. Mattingly II was an astronaut in 1969.

Images from HUM/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Mattingly, a proficient aviator, received praise for his achievements as the command module pilot during the 1972 Apollo 16 mission to the moon. Throughout the mission, the team of astronauts successfully gathered samples from the elevated regions of the moon and accomplished all of their primary goals.

The Apollo 13 mission launched with Swigert in command and astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise on board.

Apollo 13 Astronauts Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, and Ken Mattingly.

The initial team for Apollo 13, in order from left to right, consisted of Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, and Ken Mattingly. However, Mattingly was unable to participate in the mission. The mission itself encountered a near-tragic situation when the spacecraft malfunctioned and was forced to return to Earth without successfully landing on the moon. Bettmann / Getty Images

Almost 56 hours after take off, oxygen tank No. 2 exploded on Apollo 13, causing tank No. 1 to fail as well. “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” Lovell famously called down to mission control. 

Mattingly played an important role in helping bring the crew back to Earth. “He stayed behind and provided key real-time decisions to successfully bring home the wounded spacecraft and the crew of Apollo 13,” Nelson said in the statement. 

Born in Chicago, Mattingly began his career with the U.S. Navy in 1958, and became a pilot two years later. He was deployed on the battleship USS Franklin D. Roosevelt from which he flew planes for two years.

In 1966, he was selected by NASA to be one of the 19 astronauts in the class of that year. He played a role in supporting the Apollo 8 and 11 missions as part of the astronaut support team, and played a crucial role in the creation and experimentation of the Apollo spacesuit and backpack.

Following his role as a command module pilot in the Apollo Program, he had a hiatus of nearly ten years before returning to the helm. From 1982 to 1985, Mattingly served as spacecraft commander for two space shuttle missions, accumulating 504 hours in space.

William Harwood was a contributor to this report.

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