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Hometown to honor astronaut Fred Haise on 50th anniversary of Apollo 13 flight

Biloxi, Miss. native Fred Haise.

NASA/TNS

By WARREN KULO | GulfLive | Published: March 6, 2020

BILOXI, Miss. (Tribune News Service) — NASA legend and Biloxi native Fred Haise will be honored with a two-day celebration commemorating his flight aboard Apollo 13 in April 1970.

The City of Biloxi has announced banquet in Haise’s honor will be held on Friday, April 10. The following day, at 1:13 p.m. — the precise time Apollo 13 lifted off from Cape Kennedy 50 years ago — Haise and others will gather south of the Biloxi lighthouse to unveil The Launching Pad, a replica of the base of the Saturn V rocket which powered Apollo 13 and all other Apollo missions.

“That episode back in April 1970 is huge in the annals of history,” Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. “It captured the attention of the entire world, and to think that someone from Biloxi was right in the middle of it and performed so remarkably under such pressure is tremendous.

"Fred made this city, this state and this country very proud, and now we’re going to make sure we commemorate this event in a fitting manner.”

Haise, the lunar module pilot, along with mission commander Jim Lovell and command module pilot Jack Swigert — a late substitution for Ken Mattingly — lifted off on April 11 as what was intended to be the third mission to land on the moon.

The moon landing was aborted, however, after an explosion of the oxygen tank in the service module, causing the tank’s contents to vent into space. As a result, the command module had to be shut down to conserve resources needed for reentry and the crew survived inside the lunar module until returning to the command module for reentry and splash down on April 17, 1970.

Haise, now 86, graduated from Biloxi High School in 1950 and from what was then Perkinston Junior College in 1952 with an Associate of Arts degree. Eligible for the Vietnam draft, Haise joined the Naval Aviation Cadet Program and underwent training from 1952 to 1954, serving as a Marine Corps fighter pilot from 1954 to 1956.

After his service in the Marine Corps, Haise earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1959, doing so while serving in the Oklahoma Air National Guard as a fighter pilot with the 185th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

He later served 10 months as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force and saw duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

In 1966, Haise was one of 19 candidates selected for NASA Astronaut Group 5, having already spent several years working with NASA as a civilian research pilot. He was the first astronaut from his class to be assigned to a mission, serving as a backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the moon, and Apollo 11, the first mission to make a lunar landing.

Despite being aborted, the Apollo 13 flight holds the record for flying the furthest distance from the Earth, due to the distance between the Earth and the moon during the mission.

Had the mission not been aborted, Haise would have become the sixth man to walk on the moon.

Although he never flew in space again, Haise went on to serve as the backup commander for Apollo 16 and it’s believed he would have commanded Apollo 19, but that mission was cancelled due to Congressional budget cuts. He would later serve as a test pilot for the space shuttle program, piloting the shuttle through approach and landing tests.

Haise left NASA in 1979 to become a test pilot and executive with Grumman Aerospace Corporation, from which he retired in 1979.

Haise has been honored numerous times through his life, including receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

He is a member of the International Space Hall of Fame and the Aerospace Walk of Honor. Haise was also one of 24 Apollo astronauts inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in October 1997.

Haise is slated to speak at the April 10 banquet, set for 6 p.m. at the Biloxi Community Center. Tickets are $25 and available at the Biloxi Visitors Center or the City of Biloxi website.

The City also announced a statue of Haise will be unveiled in April 2021 and the boardwalk along the beachfront from Porter Avenue to Benachi Avenue will be reshaped and known as “The Moonwalk” in Haise’s honor.

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