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Nixon Presents Medal of Freedom to Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team (1970)


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  •  President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon enter 
  •  Standing behind the First Lady is Dr. Robert Gilruth, director of the Manned Spacecraft Center 
  •  The President and First Lady greet family members of the Apollo 13 astronauts and the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team 
  •  To Nixon’s left is Marilyn Lovell, wife of Jim Lovell. To Nixon’s right is Mary Haise, wife of Fred Haise.  
  •  NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine begins the awards ceremony, thanking Nixon for his support 
  •  The Apollo 13 Missions Operations Team give Nixon a standing ovation. From left to right, they are Glynn Lunney, Gene Kranz, Gerry Griffin, Milt Winder, and Sigurd Sjoberg. 
  •  Nixon addresses the crowd 
  •  The President shares a message he received from Pope Paul VI 
  •  Air Force One arrives at Ellington Air Force Base prior to the ceremony 
  •  Nixon reads the citation on the Medal of Freedom 
  •  Sjoberg, director of flight operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center, accept the nation’s highest civilian award on the operation team’s behalf 
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In this news segment for Houston’s KPRC-TV, President Richard Nixon awards the Medal of Freedom to the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team: Glynn Lunney, Gene Kranz, Gerry Griffin, Milt Winder, and Sigurd Sjoberg. The ceremony took place at Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Center on April 18, 1970. An estimated 2,500 people were in attendance. First Lady Pat Nixon, NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine, MSC Director Robert L. Gilruth, and family members of Apollo 13 astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise joined the President on stage for the presentation. Following the awards ceremony, Nixon and the astronauts’ families flew on to Hawaii to meet up with the Apollo 13 flight crew. Launched on April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 was meant to be the third mission to land on the Moon. Fifty-five hours and 55 minutes into flight, however, an oxygen tank exploded in the Service Module, depleting the crew’s oxygen supply and causing multiple fuel cells to fail. NASA soon aborted the original mission, and the safe return and landing of the crew became the primary objective. Lovell, Swigert, and Haise splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on April 17.
As the scope of the American space program grew, NASA’s Space Task Group realized it would need to expand into its own facility if it were to successfully land a man on the Moon. In 1961, the agency’s selection team chose a 1,000-acre cow pasture in Houston, Texas, as the proposed center’s location site, owing to its access to water transport and commercial jet service, moderate climate, and proximity to Rice University. In September 1963, the facility opened as the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC). 
The Center became the focal point of NASA’s manned spaceflight program, developing spacecraft for Projects Gemini and Apollo, selecting and training astronauts, and operating the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. Beginning with Gemini 4 in June 1965, MSC’s Mission Control Center also took over flight control duties from the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As a result, the facility managed all subsequent manned space missions, including those related to Projects Gemini and Apollo, the Apollo Applications Program, the Space Shuttle Orbiters, and the International Space Station.
In 1973, the MSC was renamed in honor of the late President and Texas native Lyndon B. Johnson. (As Senate Majority Leader, Johnson sponsored the 1958 legislation that established NASA.) The Center continues to lead NASA’s efforts in space exploration, training both American and international astronauts, managing missions to and from the International Space Station, and operating scientific and medical research programs.