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A Q&A with Apollo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise
November 10, 2014

For four days in 1970, Apollo 13 astronauts Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert had just about the entire civilized world holding its collective breath.

Originally scheduled to land on the moon, the Apollo 13 mission experienced a setback approximately 55 hours after launch when the cryogenic oxygen system on the service module failed.


The failure forced Haise and his fellow crewmembers to abandon plans to land on the moon. Instead, they turned Apollo 13's lunar module into a lifeboat, flew around the moon and returned to Earth.

With the world nervously waiting, Haise and company successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on April 17.

Though the Apollo 13 mission didn't achieve its objective, it's since become the stuff of legend. In 1995, director Ron Howard dramatized the real-life events in the film "Apollo 13," which starred Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton (who portrayed Haise).

Haise will appear at the Virginia Air & Space Center on Saturday for an event called Space Blast. Billed as a retro space party, Space Blast will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 12 mission. It will also feature the unveiling of a one-of-a-kind exhibit that features capsules from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Orion programs.

We recently conducted a Q&A with Haise, who will celebrate his 81st birthday on Friday. In addition to answering a few of our questions about his experiences as an astronaut and the Apollo era, Haise also provided answers to some of the questions people have most often asked him over the years. We've included a couple of those, too.

In a story published just prior to the Apollo 13 mission, you said that as a naval air cadet you were nervous about flying an airplane as part of getting your commission. A few years later, you were on a mission to the moon. What sort of transformation did you have to go through to go from being a nervous flier to being an elite NASA astronaut?

I immediately loved flying from my first flight and knew that in some way it was going to be a part of my future career!

What was your reaction when you found out you'd been chosen for the Apollo program?

I was pleased. It was a continuation of my career as a NASA research pilot and a transfer from the NASA Flight Research Center to the Manned Spacecraft Center.

In the 1960s there was so much excitement in the U.S. — and the world — surrounding space exploration and humans going to the moon. You and the other Apollo astronauts were right at the center of that. What was it like for you?

I personally did not feel that sort of pressure. It was another project — though larger and more complicated than any that I had worked on before. The pressure was within the program itself to get to flight as soon as feasible!

Tell me about your experiences at NASA Langley.

I started with NASA as a research pilot as Lewis Research Center (now called John H. Glenn Research Center). We also supported transportation in a DC-3 aircraft. In that capacity I was down to NASA Langley almost every week when we ferried the Lewis personnel who joined the Space Task Group down there for over a year until they could relocate.

I also was at Langley later to fly the Lunar Excursion Model Simulator (LEMS) that had been developed at NASA Langley. The LEMS was a great training tool to get accustomed to the feeling of the exaggerated control and the anticipation it takes to handle the translation motion over the surface in zero gravity. It also had the capability to more efficiently provide multiple runs versus the servicing complexity of the LLTV (Lunar Landing Training Vehicle).

What thoughts and emotions did you have running through your head as you sat there in that Apollo capsule in the final moments before launch?

That after all that training and hard work through two previous backup crew assignments (Haise was the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 and 11), I was finally going to get to fly!

Though a hardware failure prevented the Apollo 13 mission from successfully achieving its objective, the ensuing survival story has become an important part of American history. To the average person, the thought of being in a tiny spacecraft so far from Earth in such a dangerous situation is very frightening. How did you stay focused in circumstances that seemed so dire?

As a military pilot and a test pilot, handling unusual situations and aircraft malfunctions was part of the business. My biggest emotion on Apollo 13 after the oxygen tank explosion was disappointment that we had lost the landing. Ron Howard, director for the movie "Apollo 13," commented that it never sounded like we had a problem after listening to all the air-to-ground transmissions.

After Apollo 13 did you want to go to space again?

Very much so. I cycled on a crew assignment as the backup commander on Apollo 16 and would have flown Apollo 19 on a return mission to the moon. However, the last few missions of the Apollo Program were canceled for budgetary reasons. So I lost my second opportunity to land on the moon. However, in 1977, I had the privilege of flying the very first flights on the Space Shuttle Enterprise. I commanded five of the eight flights in the Approach and Landing Test (ALT) Program at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

We sometimes hear astronauts talk about how it's a spiritual or life-altering experience being in space and looking back at the Earth. What was the experience like for you? 

The experience of a lunar mission was simply a great adventure and not a spiritual experience for me. After all, going to the moon is not going very far!

Do you have any advice for young astronaut hopefuls?

People interested in space should pursue a degree in engineering or science. And if they're interested in piloting a vehicle, they should acquire military flight training. All who have been selected as astronauts have outstanding scholastic and work records.

In your mind, what should the long-range goals of space exploration be?

The long-range goal should be to establish the human race on places within our universe other than our single spaceship Earth. The Earth is not going to be inhabitable forever. It seems logical that we should use our God-given talent (and we are uniquely the only creatures I know of with that talent and capability) to preserve the race.

Haise will appear at the Virginia Air & Space Center on Saturday as part of Space Blast, a retro space party celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 12 mission. The event is from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.vasc.org or by calling 727-0900 ext. 703.

Joe Atkinson
NASA's Langley Research Center

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Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise will appear at Space Blast at the Virginia Air & Space Center on Saturday, Nov. 15.
Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise will appear at Space Blast at the Virginia Air & Space Center on Saturday, Nov. 15.
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Page Last Updated: November 10th, 2014
Page Editor: Joe Atkinson