Apollo astronauts, engineer share lessons from space at MSU

From left to right, Apollo astronauts Fred Haise and Charlie Duke, along with former Apollo engineer and MSU alumnus Jerry Bostick, recall their experiences working on NASA space missions during a Wednesday [Oct. 11] event at Mississippi State. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Three men who helped America soar to new heights with NASA’s Apollo space missions shared their stories Wednesday [Oct. 11] with the Mississippi State community.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum visits with Apollo astronauts Fred Haise and Charlie Duke, and Apollo engineer and MSU alumnus Jerry Bostick on Wednesday [Oct. 11]. The space exploration pioneers spoke to the MSU community as part of a celebration of the university joining the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. (Photo by Megan Bean)

To celebrate Mississippi State’s admission into the prestigious Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, astronauts Charlie Duke and Fred Haise, along with MSU alum and Apollo engineer Jerry Bostick, spoke to a large crowd in Lee Hall’s Bettersworth Auditorium about their journeys during a time when astronauts were completing missions that captured the imagination of the American public.

For Duke, the Apollo 16 mission he went on became a family affair. He took a family photo of himself, his wife and two kids with him when he went to the moon in 1972. As one of his last acts before he left the moon, he left the photo on the lunar surface, where it remains today.

“I was able to take a picture of my picture on the moon,” Duke said. “It ended up becoming kind of an iconic image.”

All three men discussed the intense training and planning that was required to send a crew to space and back safely.

“Most of the time, the missions were a breeze compared to all the simulations we did,” said Bostick, who served as a flight engineer on the Apollo missions.

The Apollo 13 mission Haise flew on was an example of a mission becoming more difficult than the training and simulations. The mission’s goal was a third lunar landing, but an oxygen tank explosion forced the crew to abort the lunar landing and devise a new plan to return safely to Earth. The mission was chronicled in a suspenseful 1995 feature film, in which Bill Paxton played the role of Haise. A Biloxi native, Haise said everyone involved with every mission was ready for a wide range of difficult situations.

Duke was a backup astronaut for Apollo 13 and was the capsule communicator, or CAPCOM, during the Apollo 11 mission, serving as the astronauts’ link to mission control while man attempted to land on the moon for the first time.

“We practiced every possible failure we could see,” Duke said. “We knew which issues we couldn’t recover from. The training was so good that you instantly respond with the correct emergency response.”

When Haise and Duke were on their missions, Bostick was at mission command working as a flight engineer. The Golden native studied civil engineering at MSU and joined NASA after a chance encounter with a recruiter from NASA’s Langley Research Center led to a change of post-graduation plans in 1961. He said 22 MSU alumni were involved with the Apollo missions.

MSU is joining 35 other top research universities nationwide and is one of five institutions recently added to the ASF. MSU is the only university in Mississippi included in the ASF program, which aims to help the U.S. retain its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships to the very best and brightest college students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields, commonly known as STEM.

During his introduction of the featured speakers, MSU President Mark E. Keenum praised the new partnership with ASF and thanked Ray Gildea, an MSU graduate and former assistant director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government, for his generous contribution to support the permanent scholarship for MSU students.

Wednesday’s event was sponsored by MSU’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College, College of Arts and Sciences and Bagley College of Engineering.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.