Former U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps pilot and NASA astronaut Fred Haise joined New Orleans Saints legend Zach Strief as a special guest on the Saints Radio Network Tuesday night to discuss his longtime aviation career and the Infinity Science Center located just outside of Slidell.
Haise was born in the Mississippi coastal town of Biloxi in November 1933. At the time, Haise had zero interest in becoming a pilot and had never even flown on a plane until he joined the Naval Aviation Cadet (NAVCAD) training program.
"I had never been on an airplane in my life, not even sitting on the ground, Haise said during the WWL radio show. "So, I had no inclination in that direction. My primary motive was to become an ensign or a second lieutenant when I finished training. But it was one of those things where it was a 90-degree turn in my career because almost instantly I loved flying. I knew somehow my new career was going to be in aviation for my life."
After training at NAVCAD, Haise would go on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot, he returned to school and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in aeronautical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1959, and served for two years in the Oklahoma Air National Guard as a fighter interceptor pilot with the 185th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, all before joining the newly created NASA in 1966.
Haise was one of 19 selected for NASA Astronaut Group 5 where he served as the backup lunar module pilot for the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 missions. Most famous for his role as the lunar module pilot for the nearly-catastrophic Apollo 13 mission.
Haise described the process of becoming a pilot on Apollo 13.
"At that time you're just trying to do everything you can the best way you can to get recognized for what you were doing to hopefully get a crew assignment earlier," Haise said. "Once you were in a crew though, the competition was kind of over. The way it was set up was if you were assigned to a mission as a backup you normally would fly three missions later. That was almost guaranteed. So, it was just to do your backup assignment as well as you could and not have something happen in that period that might take you out of the rotation, but then you were almost guaranteed to fly...I was set to fly (Apollo) 14 I thought, but then we ended up moving 14 and 13, cycling them so I ended up flying on (Apollo) 13 rather than (Apollo) 14."
In June 1979, Haise would eventually move on from NASA to become a test pilot and executive with Grumman Aerospace Corporation, where he remained until retiring in 1996.
Haise would then help to create the INFINITY Science Center, a public science education center in Pearlington, Miss. Haise has served on INFINITY's board of directors for the past 15 years and donates the fees earned from his speaking engagements to help support the center.
"I've been 14 years involved with INFINITY (Science Center) from almost Day One and we've suffered just like a lot of business with lack of attendance," Haise said. "Even though we're connected with NASA we express ourselves as a NASA visitor center, but the space center, we're a non-for-profit 501c3, so we operate as a business separate from NASA. We are looking to arise again in April. There are ways people can help if you go to our website VisitInfinity.com."