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Today is December 3, 2021

Meet Fred Haise

Mississippi’s Moon Voyager

By Debbie Stringer

Meet Fred Haise

Former Apollo 13 lunar module pilot Fred Haise

   As student editor of the Perkinston Junior College newspaper, Fred Haise dreamed of life as a reporter.
   But with the nation at war in Korea, the Biloxi native decided to join the fight. In1952 he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program to become a pilot, despite never having flown before.
    It was a life-changing decision. Soaring in a single-engine SNJ trainer, Haise forgot all about being an earth-bound journalist. He chose a career path that would lead him to become one of only 24 humans to fly to the moon—a feat restricted to science fiction in the 1950s.
    Haise, 79, a member of Singing River Electric Power Association who lives in Houston, Texas, and keeps a home in Gautier, is best known as a crew member of the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission. Serving as lunar module pilot aboard Odyssey, Haise flew in April 1970 with commander Jim Lovell and command module pilot John “Jack” Swigert.
    Their “routine” mission became a struggle for survival when an oxygen tank exploded en route to the moon. The explosion led to a string of catastrophic system failures that challenged the crew and NASA ground controllers (and the spacecraft) in ways they never expected.
    NASA’s struggles to keep the three astronauts alive and bring them home safely was dramatized in the 1995 film “Apollo 13,” with actor Bill Paxton playing the 36-year-old Haise. The fact-based film is a nail-biter—even though viewers know the outcome—based on Lovell’s book, “Lost Moon.”

Career trajectory: from the Navy to NASA
    After amassing more than 9,000 hours of flight time as an aviator in the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, Haise joined the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1959. He began work as a research pilot at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was involved in early zero-gravity research.
    In his seven years as a NASA research pilot, Haise flew about 80 types of aircraft.
    NASA selected the accomplished young aviator in 1966 to join 18 other astronauts for intensive training for Apollo and future missions. The space agency had assigned Apollo top priority status in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy pledged to land a man on the moon within the decade—even though nobody knew how to do it.
    After a year of general astronaut training, Haise was assigned to work with Grumman Aerospace on the development and testing of the lunar-landing vehicle, or lunar module (LM). He would train as backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 8 and 11 missions before flying in Apollo 13.
    Freddo, as Haise was known, was itching to fly a lunar mission. “Everybody was. That’s why you were there,” he said.
    In an interview with NASA in 1999, Haise recalled the anticipation as his Apollo 13 launch date approached: “Occasionally, you just sort of feel a few little butterflies here and there, during the day or whenever you start thinking about it [and] you look up at the sky.”
    Despite the fear she must have felt for her son’s safety, Lucille Haise never stood in his way. “I think she didn’t like to think about what may happen,” Fred Haise said, “but she knew it was something I wanted to do.”

Getting home becomes the mission
    In the early stages of LM development, Grumman engineers conceived the idea of the lander doubling as a virtual lifeboat should a crew be forced to abandon their mother ship. The scenario became reality for the Apollo 13 astronauts when they were forced to abort their lunar mission.
    In a lengthy, tedious process, they powered down the crippled Odyssey, activated the lunar module Aquarius and moved in to take advantage of the lander’s life-support systems—and to stretch them beyond limits.
    “[This procedure] was never really fully developed, so there was a lot of ad libbing during our mission to make that really happen,” Haise said.
    The Apollo 13 crew were the first American astronauts to face the real possibility of dying in space, wrote Andrew Chaiken in his book “A Man on the Moon.” The spacecraft’s limited functionality could have, on the return trip, caused it to miss Earth by thousands of miles and forever drift in space.
    Experience as a test pilot steeled Haise for handling the pressure of the life-threatening crisis. “I’ve seen a lot of red lights in airplanes,” he said.
    Haise praised the movie “Apollo 13” for accurately conveying the teamwork and innovative response that brought his crew home, and for which the mission is remembered.
    The real team, however, encompassed far more than the flight controllers and astronauts depicted in the film. Some, like the University of Montreal professors who lent expertise in shock dynamics, had no connection to the space program, Haise said. Yet these professors’ calculations helped NASA engineers devise a way for the astronauts to disconnect the LM from the re-activated command module as they approached Earth, in order to safely enter the atmosphere.
    “No telling how many stories there are of people that were called on and asked to do something to work through some of the work-arounds that had to be done during the flight,” Haise said.
    Even foreign governments offered assistance as the Apollo 13 crisis unfolded. “At one point we were expected to go down in the Indian Ocean, until we made the manuever after we passed behind the moon,” Haise said. “Russia had volunteered to have some ships that would be available at anchor to retrieve us.”
    Haise’s discomfort in the cold, cramped LM was exacerbated by the development of a urinary tract infection and high fever. Yet for most of the six-day flight his mind was preoccupied not with his own plight but on the impact the failed mission might have on the space program. “In the back of my mind I worried that we may be the cause of the end of the program,” he said.
    “It was a failure in my mind. So I was very happy when we got back and figured out that it had been perceived in the right light, as a real challenge that was overcome to get these people home. It took a lot of ingenuity and teamwork.”
    Was this NASA’s finest hour, as many have said? “Certainly publicity-wise it was, but the team work was there every mission. We almost aborted two other [moon] landings: Apollo 14 and Apollo 16. Both had problems that could have stopped them from landing,” Haise said.
    Haise told a NASA interviewer the high point of the mission for him was seeing the back side of the moon, even though it appeared “rather lifeless.”
    “That was exciting. Jack Swigert and I both had cameras out and shot quite a number of pictures while we passed by briefly.”
    The day after their splashdown on April 17, Haise, Lovell and Swigert received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Nixon.
    Biloxi celebrated their local hero’s return to Earth (and to his hometown) with a parade and other special events.
    “That was traditional, I think for most people who flew missions. It was, in my view, much more than most because of the small town flavor,” Haise said.

Commands shuttle test flights
   Haise felt he would get another chance to fly to the moon, but it was not to be. NASA named him commander of Apollo 19, before the mission was canceled due to budget cuts.
    Instead, he moved into space shuttle management and approach-and-landing testing. Haise commanded five of the eight test flights of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. “So I got to fly Enterprise the first time it flew,” he said.
    “There was a lot of pressure on that flight. We had changed administrations from Nixon to Carter, and Carter wasn’t very enthusiastic about space. We worried if I crashed that we’d lose the bird. We didn’t have a backup vehicle,” he said.
    In 1973 Haise crashed a World War II training plane and was hospitalized with second-degree burns—the only injury of his entire flying career.
    Haise left NASA in 1979 to take a job in aerospace management at Grumman Aerospace. There he would devote the next 17 years to the business of aerospace. He retired in 1996 as president of technical services at Northrop Grumman.
    He served six years on the board of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, which created the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy Space Center to honor astronauts who gave their lives to space exploration.

Looking to Infinity
    Today, Haise is a passionate advocate of science education. For nine years, he has been a driving force behind the construction and development of Infinity Science Center, a family-friendly science learning center that opened last year in Hancock County. (See story on page 15.)
    The center, located off I-10 at Miss. Exit 2, represents a partnership between NASA and Infinity Science Center Inc., the not-for-profit organization responsible for funding the center’s construction, operation and exhibits.
    Haise serves as vice chairman of the foundation board and conducts fund raising, public outreach and marketing functions on behalf of the center.
    “It’s been a good way to get out of the rocking chair and still keep my mind engaged,” he quipped.
   While in that rocking chair, does he look back on his own days as an astronaut? “I’m forced to look back,” he said with a grin, “because I do a lot of talks.”
    Haise relates his space experiences to audiences for the benefit of Infinity. He donates fees from his motivational speaking engagements to help support the center. “So obviously the talk is focused a little on Infinity but mostly on Apollo 13,” he said.
    A father and grandfather, Haise is keen on inspiring young people. Last month, for example, he spoke to a group of 10th grade space campers at Johnson Space Center’s mission control, in Houston, where NASA engineers once worked furiously to save his life.
    Haise uses these opportunities to encourage young people to discover their own talents and obtain the necessary education or training to develop them into a satisfying career.
    “Your job is to figure out what God has blessed you with and make the most of that,” he tells them.
    Haise said he feels fortunate to have recognized his own best career path early in life. “I’m very, very lucky to have ended up in a profession that fit what I could do well,” he said.
    “I can’t complain. I’ve had a very good career. It’s been rewarding to me and I think I’ve done some things that helped. So I wish everybody could end up in a similar vein.”
    Haise considers Houston home, but he returns often to Mississippi to visit family or to work on behalf of Infinity.
    Sometimes he fishes the bayou where his father and uncle used to take him. “When I’m out there, it looks just like it did 65 years ago,” he said.
    Considering his early ambition to be a journalist and the uniqueness of his life as a moon voyager, one would think Haise ponders his memoirs while fishing the quiet waters.
    “I keep toying with it,” he said.
    For information on a Fred Haise speaking engagement, contact Keppler Speakers at 703-516-4000 or Linda McCarthy, Infinity Science Center, at 228-467-9048.

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