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The Astronaut Who Lost (and Found) His Wedding Ring in Space

Science By
20th April 1972: Astronauts Young and Charles Moss Duke Jnr landed on the surface of the moon during the manned Apollo 16 mission to explore Descartes Highlands and Cayley Plains regions. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
20th April 1972:  Apollo 16 mission on its mission to explore Descartes Highlands and Cayley Plains regions. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Every married man has experienced it: The terrifying moment when you realize your wedding ring isn’t where it should be. In 1972, Ken Mattingly experienced it in a very unique way, because it happened while he was in outer space. The pilot of Apollo 16, Mattingly realized his ring had gone missing on just the second day of the 11-day voyage (as fellow astronaut Charlie Duke, Jr. put it: “It floated off somewhere”). Now he had two missions.

Mission 1: The NASA stuff.

Mission 2: Find the ring.

 

NITED STATES - JUNE 10: Apollo 16, carrying Apollo astronauts John Young - Commander, Thomas Mattingly - Command and Service Module pilot and Charles Duke - Lunar Module pilot, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 16th April 1972. It was the fifth successful Apollo lunar landing mission and astronauts Young and Duke became the ninth and tenth men to walk on the Moon. Mattingly remained in lunar orbit while they were on the surface. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Apollo 16, carrying Apollo astronauts John Young – Commander Thomas Mattingly – Command and Service Module pilot and Charles Duke – Lunar Module pilot, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 16th April 1972. Astronauts Young and Duke became the ninth and 10th men to walk on the Moon. (SSPL/Getty Images)

Thankfully, the ring was next spotted on Day Nine, when it floated out the door into outer space in the middle of an experiment. Miraculously, Duke noticed it, reached out to grab it, and missed—only to get another shot at it later thanks to a lucky bounce off Mattingly’s helmet, who was focused on his research and oblivious to the ring. (This time, Duke held on.)

To learn more about this extraordinarily personal mission in outer space, click here.

Astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr. leaves a photograph of his family on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, 23rd April 1972. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
Astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr. leaves a photograph of his family on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission on April 23, 1972. (Space Frontiers/Getty Images)