Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Out of this world in Pontefract (again)

An afternoon with an astronaut.

In better weather than last autumn Mr Norfolkbookworm and I once more made the cross country trip to Pontefract for the very special treat of listening to one of the Apollo era astronauts.

This time the guest speaker was T K (Ken) Mattingly and although not a moon-walker his story is just as interesting - if not more so!  Mattingly was scheduled to fly as the Command Module Pilot on Apollo 13 but (luckily?) due to his potential exposure to measles was bumped from the flight at the 11th hour.  Much of his talk was about how the behind the scenes teams worked to safely return the crew of Apollo 13 to earth and it was fabulous to hear all about the team work and seat-of-the-pants decisions that allowed this to happen.

Mattingly did get to fly to the moon on Apollo 16 two years later but this mission too was not without incident and even though I knew that this mission was a success I was still on the edge of my seat with suspense as Mattingly talked us through the problems.

I've always had as much, if not more, admiration for the Command Module Pilot as he was the guy left alone in lunar orbit while the other two landed.  Not only was he left solo - often out of contact with mission control, but should anything have happened on the moon's surface he would have been the one to have to come back alone, never knowing exactly what had happened to his crew mates.

As ever I could have sat for hours listening to Mattingly's stories but sadly there was no time to hear about his space walk conducted between the Earth and the moon or about his early shuttle test flights. I was hoping to ask him about the former in the q&a but I wasn't chosen this time but the other questions did give more insight into NASA at the time.

My favourite bit? Hard to pick. I'm torn between the stunned laughter as Mattingly described watching Earthrise from the moon as an erotic experience and his comments that while Gary Sinise did a good job of portraying him on screen he really didn't sulk enough!

After the talk however there was a chance to actually meet and speak briefly with Mattingly as he signed one of my most treasured possessions:

The dates for the next talk have been announced, but not the guest, but I already can't wait and I can't thank Space Lectures enough for organizing these events. See you in November!

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