History Highlight - Astronaut Jack Swigert
By Randy Saunders , 50th Space Wing historian
/ Published October 14, 2014
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Building 400 on Schriever Air Force Base is officially named the Jack Swigert Space Operations Facility. Who is Jack Swigert and why does Schriever AFB have a building named for him?
John Leonard "Jack" Swigert, Jr. was born Aug. 30, 1931, in Denver. By age 14, Swigert was fascinated with aviation. Watching planes take off and land at Combs Field, also called Sky Ranch. Taking on a newspaper route to earn money for flying lessons, Swigert was a licensed private pilot by age 16. He was also active in scouting and sports.
Swigert graduated from East High School in 1949 and went on to the University of Colorado, playing football for the Buffaloes and earning a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1953. Later, Swigert earned a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Hartford. He was also the recipient of several honorary doctorate degrees.
Swigert joined the Air Force following his graduation from the University of Colorado in 1953 and completed pilot training and gunnery school at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. He served as fighter pilot in Japan and Korea. Following his active duty tour, he served as a jet fighter pilot with the Air National Guard in Massachusetts (1957-1960) and Connecticut (1960-1965). He also worked as an engineering test pilot for North American Aviation and for Pratt and Whitney before joining the NASA. He logged more than 7,200 flight hours with more than 5,725 in jet aircraft.
Swigert was accepted into the astronaut corps in April 1966 as part of Astronaut Group 5, following two unsuccessful attempts. He became a specialist in the Apollo Command Module and asked to be a command module pilot. He was selected for the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission only three days before the launch to replace astronaut Ken Mattingly, who was exposed to the rubella virus. Apollo 13, the third planned NASA moon landing mission, ended suddenly when the service module suffered a rupture in the oxygen tank. Swigert, according to fellow Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, made the now famous announcement, "Houston, we've had a problem here." After engineering the command module as a lifeboat, the astronauts returned safely to earth following five days and 23 hours in orbit.
Swigert took a leave of absence from NASA in 1973 to serve as executive director of the Committee on Science and Technology in the U.S. House of Representatives. He resigned from NASA in 1977 and worked in the private sector until 1982. At that time, he left private business and was elected to the U.S. Congress from Colorado's new 6th Congressional District.
During his campaign for the U.S. Congress, Swigert developed a malignant tumor in his nasal passage. Despite surgery, the cancer spread to his bones and marrow. On December 19, 1982, he was airlifted from his home in Littleton, Colorado, to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He passed away there Dec. 27, 1982. Swigert returned to Colorado and is buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge.
Swigert was the recipient of many awards including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Building 400 was named in honor of Jack Swigert 20 June 20, 1986, soon after its completion. This memorialization recognizes Swigert's contributions to the United States as a fighter pilot and astronaut.