• Apollo 13 astronauts James Lovell, left, and Fred Haise look at the back of a camera to view a picture of themselves together in front of the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Apollo 13. A documentary about the misssion, “Apollo 13: The Spirit that Built America,” will be screened as a part of the Tallgrass Film Festival.

Apollo 13 astronauts to be in Hutchinson

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It wasn't the sound of the explosion that upset Fred Haise, aboard Apollo 13 as it hurtled 200,000 miles from Earth on a 10-day mission.

"I was sick to my stomach because I knew we couldn't get to the moon," Haise said, speaking recently from his home in Houston, Texas.

Haise had served as backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 8 and 11 missions. Finally, in April 1970, his moment arrived. He was part of the crew getting closer to that moment of a lunar landing.

Two days into their voyage the crew had finished saying goodnight at the end of a TV broadcast, showing viewers back on Earth how comfortably they were living and working in space.

Jack Swigert, command module pilot, was doing a routine procedure of flipping a switch to stir the oxygen tanks when there was a bang. An oxygen tank in the service module blew up, also damaging the hydrogen tank, which generated electricity for the spacecraft.

Suddenly the flight plan had to be modified – the goal now was to get them safely back to Earth.

A lost opportunity

Back on Earth, over several tension-filled days, Mission Control scrambled to assure the astronauts survival and safe return. Once they were heading in the right direction to return home, they shut down the command module and climbed into "Aquarius," the lunar module which was used as their lifeboat to conserve electrical power. It was meant for two people, but for three days all three astronauts survived inside of it.

The crew conserved water, drinking only six ounces a day, causing severe dehydration. Meanwhile they were faced with another hurdle, turning off and on the command module. They had trained for everything except that.

"That was my only time of concern when Jack Swigert and I powered up the mother-ship. It was a whole new procedure," Haise said. "We only had three little batteries that had to get us through entry."

Mission control worked around the clock for three days to develop the procedure, but there was no time for the astronauts to practice. It's something they would have done in a simulator several dozen times if they had, Haise said. Instead they read through the directions to get the feel of the flow of it. He was nervous that something might go wrong. NASA delayed the start up as long as they possibly could, adding to the anxiety of whether it would start. Miraculously it did.

While walking on the moon remains a lost opportunity for Haise, he continued on with NASA and became the backup spacecraft commander for the Apollo 16 mission. He might have been on Apollo 19, but the government cancelled the last two voyages to the moon.

Haise noted a recent article in "America Space," by Ben Evans that stated ending the Apollo missions was "one of the most controversial – and perhaps misguided – decisions in its (NASA's) history. In doing so, the agency and a short-sighted Washington administration condemned humanity to at least two generations in which exploration beyond Earth orbit was only possible with robotic craft."

Haise left NASA to attend Harvard Business School. He then became technical assistant to the Manager of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Project. He was commander of one of the two two-man crews who piloted space shuttle approach and landing test flights.

"The space shuttle development days was the highlight of my career," said Haise.

He recalled an exciting mission to rescue the ill-fated Skylab in 1979. However, it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and broke into pieces before they could save it. Some pieces were found in a sparsely populated area of Australia.

Building the next thing

Haise resigned from NASA in June 1979 to enter the business world, working with space programs at Grumman Aerospace Corporation. He discovered that the business world was much more challenging than being an astronaut, dealing with people, layoffs and the government.

Since 1996 he has been retired, putting his energy into the Infinity Science Center, in his home state of Mississippi. He serves on the board of directors for the center which is NASA's official visitor center for the Stennis Space Center.

He takes time to fish and enjoy his family including his first great-grandchild. He gives 15 contracted talks a year around the country and often meets up with Jim Lovell during presentations on Apollo 13. Jack Swigert died of cancer in 1982, just after being elected to U.S. Congress.

While his life has been an adventure since Apollo 13, the mission has remained a major fascination in the public eye, thanks to the Hollywood movie. He says he's fortunate because, unlike the actors in the movie, no one knows who he is.

For more information about Saturday's activities go to {a href="http://www.cosmo.org%20" target="_blank"}www.cosmo.org.{/a}