Sunday, 13 April 2014
On Friday night I met another Spaceman. I met Alan Bean last year. This time it was Ken Mattingly. I won't list his NASA history because you'll have a great time looking it up. What I will tell you is that he should have flown Apollo 13. Just 3 days before launch NASA pulled him out of the mission because they feared he had been exposed to chicken pox. A few days later, when the explosion happened in the Command Module, it was Ken who worked for hours in the test-labs, trying everything he could to try and help bring his friends home. When they did finally make it back to Earth (still one of the most incredible achievements of modern science and engineering) the three astronauts were quick to state that they owed their lives to the people of NASA, and especially Ken Mattingly. So, in a lovely Yorkshire hotel, I got to meet this hero. And yet Ken would dispute that word, 'hero.' We heard him say that he could not understand why 130 people had paid good money just to have dinner with him and hear him say a few words. I cannot speak for the other 129, but I can speak for this one. My late Dad worked on the guidance systems of the Blue Streak rocket, in the early 1960's. I remember him being away for 6 weeks when he went out to Woomera, Australia, for the tests on the rocket. When he completed 25 years service with EMI Electronics, his only employer, once he had come out of the Navy, they gave him a beautiful model of the Blue Streak. He did not talk about that this side of his work because, what started out as a life devoted to radar, soon became a life of Defense contracts, work at secret locations and the Official Secrets Act. The project that began as a missile, became a launcher and then failed completely, was shelved. Dad loved engineering and would marvel at the sheer audacity of men going into Space. He would talk about guidance systems and computers way before the words became common language. He would watch the BBC broadcasts of the Moon landings avidly, encouraging me to sit with him. At 13 years of age, I would ask question after question and he would patiently explain. So the names of those brave pioneers are almost part of my DNA. Ken Mattingly is one of those names. It was an honour to meet this small, humble man. It was a pleasure to listen to him speak. It was amazing to sit in a hushed bar, after dinner, just a few of us, and listen to him marvel at why people would come, would want to meet him. He had said earlier "If anyone wants to come and ask me about space travel, I'll keep you up all night." Ken Mattingly is a hero to me. He makes me remember happy times with my Dad. Meeting him and Alan Bean has made me determined to meet more of these adventurers. These humble, quiet men. These heroes.