November 25, 2009
NASA is honoring former astronaut Fred Haise on December 2 with their Ambassadors of Exploration Award, given out every few months in recent years to the first generation of explorers who made the moon landings happen.
Haise is usually remembered as one of the three astronauts, along with Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert, who barely got home in the Apollo 13 scare. That was his only flight into space.
What many people don’t realize is what a golden boy he was in the Apollo program: He would have walked on the moon with Lovell; was backup lunar module pilot for Apollos 8 and 11 and was inside the Apollo 11 command module early on the morning of the launch configuring the control panel for Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, as well as the last person to see them before pulling his head out and closing the hatch; was backup commander for Apollo 16; commander of the canceled Apollo 19; and commander of five drop tests of the space shuttle Enterprise in 1977. Check out this video of the first landing of a space shuttle, with Haise at the controls. Stick with it past the 3:30 mark for some very groovy 1977 color from an audience that watched in a TV studio.
Haise was also scheduled to command the second orbital flight of the space shuttle, which would rescue the Skylab space station and bring it home. Delays in the shuttle program made this impossible. The station entered Earth’s atmosphere in 1979 and was destroyed. Haise retired from NASA in June 1979.
Here’s a video of Haise talking about his work on the Apollo lunar lander (look on the right side of the page for the video “A Very Unusual Machine.“)
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, who later flew the space shuttle in orbit four times, twice as commander, will present Haise with the award at Gorenflo Elementary School, which Haise attended, in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. The award consists of a chip of moon rock encased in Lucite for display. Haise will then present the award to Paul Tisdale, superintendent of the Biloxi Public School System, and Tina Thompson, the school’s principal, where it will go on permanent display.
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