Al Worden: Former Military Pilot and Astronaut

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Al Worden was a former military pilot and astronaut who orbited the Moon as part of the Apollo 15 mission.

Al Worden

He was born on Feb. 7, 1932, in Jackson Mich. He went through schools there and graduated from Jackson High School in 1950. From there, Worden went to the U.S. Military Academy, graduating from West Point in 1955 with a bachelor of science degree in military science. He added a master's degree in astronautical/aeronautical engineering and instrumentation engineering from the University of Michigan in 1963.

In between studies, he underwent flight training at three Air Force bases, two in Texas and one in Florida, and then attended Randolph Air Force Base Instrument Pilots Instructor School. He completed test pilot training in England. A subsequent stint as an instructor at the Aerospace Research Pilots School was his last assignment before joining NASA. In total, he logged more than 4,000 hours of flying time.

Worden was on the support crew for Apollo 9 and then on the backup crew for Apollo 12. He was the Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15, blasting into space on July 26, 1971, with Commander Dave Scott and Lunar Module Pilot Jim Irwin.

Apollo 15 insignia

The Apollo 15 mission was the first to have a heavy focus on science. NASA had brought in Caltech geologist Lee Silver to meet with the crews of the previous two Apollo missions, but it was Scott, the Apollo 15 commander, who pushed his crew to achieve as much as possible in the scientific realm. Worden, who would stay in the Command Module and orbit the Moon, studied intensely with geologist, Farouk El-Baz, studying maps and photos of the lunar craters that he would see while in lunar orbit, so he could contribute to the surface missions.

Scott and Irwin descended to the lunar surface and spent 66 hours there, doing various experiments and employing the Lunar Roving Vehicle to help them get around. Back in the Command Module, Worden was busy taking photos (including with a panoramic camera based on technology used in spy satellites) and performing experiments of his own. Among his equipment were an X-ray spectrometer, a gamma ray spectrometer, and an alpha particle spectrometer. (The data that Worden gathered would later help inform the landing site for Apollo 17.)

Apollo 15 spacewalk

Together again, the crew left lunar orbit on August 4. The next day, Worden got his chance to experience space, performing the first deep space EVA (right). The return to Earth was relatively uneventful (the failure of one of the three splashdown parachutes being the only real issue), and the crew was back on August 7.

The crew were involved in a controversy after they landed. All three had agreed to carry postal covers to the Moon and, after returning them to Earth, hand them over to a West German stamp dealer, who planned to sell them. The dealer paid each astronaut for doing this, and the crew had planned to use the money as a nest egg for their children. However, they did not have permission from NASA to do so. The space agency had sanctioned the first-day-cover exercise that Scott had undertaken, with full support of the U.S. Postal Service. But this was something different. When the crew's actions became public knowledge, they received official reprimands from NASA and were removed as the backup crew for Apollo 17. None of them flew in space again.

Worden carried on in NASA, serving as Senior Aerospace Scientist at the Ames Research Center until he left the organization in 1975. In those years, he made seven guest appearances on the television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, talking about science and his experiences in space. Retiring from the military as well in 1975, he entered the private sector, going to work for a couple of aerospace companies. He also served as Chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation for a time.

Al Worden

His post-Apollo endeavors took a political turn when he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. Attempting to represent the Republican Party in the November race for the 12th Congressional District, he did not finish first in the primary election. He also wrote a book, Falling to Earth, which was published in 2011 and became a best-seller.

Worden has been married twice and has three children.

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