By Candice Tewell
The near-tragedy of Apollo 13 in 1970 is one of the most memorable events of the past century. The story of the three men aboard a crippled spaceship tens of thousands of miles from Earth gripped the nation and the world for the tense five days between the mysterious explosion that rocked the ship and the team’s eventual safe return to earth.
In the intervening years, the astronauts who made that fateful flight—Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert—have been honored throughout the world for their bravery. But what of the men who brought them home against all odds, through sheer determination, hard work and brilliance—the stellar mission control team at NASA? This year, in honor of the 35th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 13, The Museum of Flight was proud to celebrate all those who participated in the Apollo 13 mission—astronauts and mission control personnel—during the annual Wings of Heroes Gala, June 11, 2005.
The museum was delighted to welcome all three of the Apollo 13 astronauts still living—Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and T. K. Mattingly (who was removed from the mission 72 hours before liftoff due to his exposure to German Measles); all four Apollo 13 flight directors—Gerry Griffin, Eugene Kranz, Glynn Lunney and Milton Windler; and 37 other members of the Apollo 13 mission control team. The gala was the largest gathering of Apollo 13 personnel since the mission itself. A surprise appearance and personal appreciation of the Apollo 13 astronauts and mission controllers was given by Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Eleven other NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut joined Armstrong, Lovell and Haise in attending the gala, as did several actors and a producer from the 1995 Ron Howard film, “Apollo 13.”
Guests were welcomed to the gala by James Albaugh, president of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, the gala’s presenting sponsor. Albaugh introduced Neil Armstrong, who concluded his brief remarks with an introduction to the main event, a tribute to the Apollo 13 mission. Interviews with the astronauts and mission control personnel were linked to NASA mission footage, creating a gripping, moving documentary video presentation, honoring those involved in this incredible rescue. The program culminated with the astronauts and mission control personnel appearing onstage to be introduced to the admiring crowd.
Following the elegant six-course meal, provided by Catering by McCormick and Schmick’s, a live mini-auction was held. Several exciting, one-of-a-kind, space-related items were auctioned throughout the evening. Crowd favorites included a photograph of all attending astronauts and mission control personnel, signed by each person; Fred Haise’s Apollo 13 mission pen, flown and used in space; and the item that commanded the evening’s highest bid, Jim Lovell’s Apollo 13 patch, worn in space throughout the seven-day mission. It sold for $80,000.
With more than 1,100 attendees, the Wings of Heroes Gala, chaired by William Rex, is believed to have been the largest charity fund-raising event in Seattle history. More than $1.88 million dollars were raised through a combination of sponsorships, ticket sales, a “Raise-Your-Paddle” appeal and silent and live mini-auctions. The proceeds support museum youth education programs.
In his remarks, Neil Armstrong made particular mention of the importance of educating youth in the fields of science—an inspiring message, and one that the museum and its generous patrons take very seriously. Each year The Museum of Flight hosts more than 80,000 children, who participate in education programs that explore many different facets of science, math and technology. The gala is the single biggest fundraiser for education programs at the museum each year.
In his remarks, Apollo 13 mission commander Jim Lovell said that after the mission’s 30th anniversary in 2000, he had pledged that he would not support any further anniversary commemorations. But after observing the outpouring of respect and generosity from the Wings of Heroes Gala attendees, he said, “Will there be a 40th anniversary celebration? Time will tell!”