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Astronaut Fred Haise: Apollo 13 Crewmember

Fred Haise
Fred Haise, Apollo 13 crewmember and one of the first space shuttle pilots.
Credit: NASA

Fred Haise is a NASA astronaut best known for his participation in the Apollo 13 mission that suffered a devastating explosion en route to the moon. After making it back safely to Earth, Haise was assigned to command another Apollo mission – Apollo 19 – that disappeared due to budget cuts.

Haise remained with NASA, however, and played an important role in developing the shuttle program. He was one of four pilots who did descent and landing practices using the mockup shuttle Enterprise, a full-scale shuttle used inside the atmosphere to test how the shuttle handled during the landing.

After leaving NASA in 1979, Haise joined Grumman Aerospace Corp. — the company that built the lunar module for the Apollo missions. Now retired, Haise still occasionally attends space history events and makes public appearances.

Military work

Haise, like most astronauts of his generation, was trained as a test pilot. First he joined the Navy as a cadet in October 1952 and worked his way up through the ranks, also serving in the Marines.

He was a fighter interceptor pilot between 1957 and 1959. He then shifted to work as a research pilot at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio until 1963. Named an outstanding graduate of the Aerospace Research Pilot School, Haise simultaneously served with the U.S. Air Force between 1961 and 1962 as a test pilot.

The young pilot, as it turned out, had not deliberately tried to get in the air. "I think you jump into things without thinking ahead very much because I had never been in an airplane — even in a commercial airliner," Haise recalled in an interview with NASA in 1999. "I had never flown at all. I just wanted to be commissioned, to be a commissioned officer."

Haise's NASA experience probably helped him get a leg up in the astronaut selection of 1966, along with his time as a test pilot. He was selected along with 18 other astronauts — including future Apollo 13 crewmate Jack Swigert — in April 1966; they jokingly dubbed themselves the "Original 19" as an homage to the "Original Seven" group of astronauts selected a few years before for the Mercury program.

About half of that group went to the moon, with the other half serving in the later programs of the space shuttle and the Skylab space station.

Apollo 13

Although Haise was a rookie when he took on the Apollo 13 mission, he already had served as the backup lunar module pilot for two missions: Apollo 8 and Apollo 11. This made him one of the most experienced hands in the craft that would take men to the moon.

Haise, along with his commander Jim Lovell, was supposed to walk on the moon during Apollo 13. That all changed on April 13, 1970, when an oxygen tank exploded and badly damaged the command module, Odyssey. The three astronauts on board, with Mission Control helping them every step of the way, moved into the lunar module to stay alive.

It was a touch-and-go situation for several days as the astronauts fought against cold and a crippled spacecraft to bring it back home, but they arrived home alive April 17. Haise came down with a kidney infection, but suffered no long-term ill effects from the ordeal.

The mission, dubbed a successful failure, spawned a popular movie called "Apollo 13," which was based on Lovell's biography, "Lost Moon." In Haise's interview with NASA, he said the clear sense of drama on that mission probably contributed to it being used for a movie rather than the more successful missions.

"It does make it very clear, you know, what can happen if you do have … the right people, the right skill mix, that are trained and they’re assembled in this team and they work together under the right leadership. You know, what a miracle can happen. And that’s what was the case of Apollo 13," he said.

Landing the shuttle

Haise's performance on the difficult mission helped earn him commander stripes for the Apollo 19 moon mission. However, it and two others slated after Apollo 17 fell to the budget axe as the U.S. government shifted its funding from space to other priorities.

The veteran astronaut moved to other projects. He became technical assistant to the manager of the space shuttle orbiter project in 1973, a role he held until 1976. Then, Haise was among the first men to take the controls of a shuttle and pilot it to a landing.

Haise and crewmate Gordon Fullerton did a series of "captive" tests, where the Enterprise was strapped on top of a 747 airplane, and then landing tests where the Enterprise broke free and landed on its own. The test program concluded in 1977 with a wealth of information on how the shuttle behaves in the atmosphere, providing valuable data on landings and approaches for space-borne missions.

After more than 15 years with NASA, Haise left the agency in 1979 to become vice president of the space program at Grumman Space Corp., taking a senior position at the company that built the lunar module he knew so well. Haise retired in 1996.

— Elizabeth Howell, SPACE.com Contributor

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