Published: Mar 17, 2009 8:30:00 AM
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Ken Mattingly

Ken Mattingly

In honor of his distinguished career, NASA will honor astronaut T.K. Mattingly with the presentation of an Ambassador of Exploration Award for his contributions to the U.S. space program in a ceremony on Thursday, March 26 at 1 p.m. in the Lowe Grand Foyer of the Shelby Center for Engineering Technology. Mattingly will accept the award and present it for display at the university.

NASA is giving the Ambassador of Exploration Award to the first generation of explorers in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs for realizing America's goal of going to the moon. The award is a moon rock encased in Lucite, 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 College of Engineering," said Engineering Dean 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, as well as three directors of Kennedy Space Center.

Following the ceremony, Mattingly will present a seminar about his life and experiences in the Hartley Auditorium, 1103 Shelby Center at 2 p.m., after which he will be available for a meet and greet reception with members of the Auburn family.

Pulled from the Apollo 13 flight at the last minute for medical reasons, Mattingly was the command module pilot who participated in the ground crew's efforts to save his fellow astronauts from a near tragic flight. While that portion of his story is 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 was instrumental in the recovery of the Apollo 13 crew before heading into space to orbit 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.