Morehead History

Part 4 – Astronaut Training II

More than once, the training that astronauts received at Morehead saved lives. After automated navigational controls failed following a loss of electricity on the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission, Gordon Cooper had to use the stars to guide his reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. His splashdown eventually proved to be the most accurate in mission history.

When the rocket launching Apollo 12 into space was hit by lightning during take-off, astronauts had to reset their navigational equipment by sighting key stars.

Astronauts in training device

Gemini Astronauts Edward White and James McDivitt demonstrate one of the training simulators used in the Planetarium in the early 1960s. The Zeiss II can be seen in the background.
The Apollo 13 mission is likely the most famous instance in which Morehead training proved critical for the space program. After an onboard explosion knocked out navigation systems, a resulting debris field also made it impossible for astronauts to accurately see the surrounding stars. When the debris cleared just before reentry, astronauts were finally able to verify that they were on the correct heading for their return.

25 years after the safe conclusion of the mission, lessons learned at Morehead were still being passed on to others. In 1995, mission astronaut James Lovell – who was advising the producers of the film “Apollo 13” – wrote to former Planetarium Director Tony Jenzano: “It has been a long time since those days at Morehead Planetarium when you taught me about the stars. I thought I would let you know that your training sank in and 25 years later I was teaching Tom Hanks about the stars.”