John “Jack” Swigert, Jr. was born on August 30, 1931, in Denver, Colorado. A graduate of East High School there, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado in 1953, a Master of Science in Aerospace Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1965, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Hartford in 1967.
Swigert served with the Air Force from 1953 to 1956, including a tour as a fighter pilot in Japan and Korea. He then served with the Air National Guards of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Captain Swigert logged over 8,000 flight hours, including more than 6,430 in jet aircraft.
Jack Swigert was one of nineteen applicants selected by NASA in its fifth astronaut class, in April 1966. As backup Command Module pilot for Apollo 13, just days before the mission he had to replace the prime Command Module pilot, Thomas K. Mattingly, following Mattingly’s exposure to German measles.
Swigert, Spacecraft Commander Jim Lovell, Jr., and Lunar Module pilot Fred Haise, Jr. blasted off for the moon on April 11, 1970. Lovell and Haise were to have explored the lunar Fra Mauro Highlands while Swigert orbited the Moon in the command module but when they were more than 200,000 miles from Earth an oxygen tank in the service module ruptured, robbing the command ship of most of its power. The lunar landing mission was aborted, and Apollo 13 became a rescue mission. The crew retreated to their still-functioning lunar module, and, working with ground controllers, converted it into a lifeboat. By conserving electrical and other supplies they made it safely back to earth on April 17, 1970, after a harrowing journey. While passing over the far side of the moon at an altitude of 158 miles from the lunar surface, Apollo 13 was 248,655 miles from earth, a record-breaking distance that still stands for manned flight. In completing this, his only space flight, Swigert logged a total of 142 hours and 54 minutes in outer space.
Captain Swigert took a leave of absence from NASA in April 1973 to become Executive Director of the Committee on Science and Technology for the U.S. House of Representatives. He resigned from NASA and the committee in August 1977 to enter politics. In 1979, Swigert became Vice President of B.D.M. Corporation, Golden, Colorado. In November 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Jack Swigert died in Washington, D.C. on December 27, 1982, of bone cancer, before he could be sworn in.
Swigert received many awards in his career, including the Presidential Medal for Freedom in 1970 and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the American Astronautical Society Flight Achievement Award for 1970, the AIAA Haley Astronautics Award for 1971, and the AIAA Octave Chanute Award for 1966, the Colorado University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1970, the City of New York Gold Medal in 1970, and the City of Houston Medal for Valor in 1970.
In 1983 the Space Foundation was founded, in part to honor the memory and accomplishments of astronaut John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr. Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Space Foundation created the John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award For Space Exploration in 2004 in tribute to his enduring legacy of space exploration. In June 1986, the Air Force dedicated the Jack Swigert Space Operations Facility, part of the satellite network control system, at Schriever Air Force Base near Colorado Springs.