Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut's Journey to the Moon
Al Worden, Francis French
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As command module pilot for the Apollo 15 mission to the moon in 1971, Al Worden flew on what is widely regarded as the greatest exploration mission that humans have ever attempted. He spent six days orbiting the moon, including three days completely alone, the most isolated human in existence. During the return from the moon to earth he also conducted the first spacewalk in deep space, becoming the first human ever to see both the entire earth and moon simply by turning his head. The Apollo 15 flight capped an already-impressive career as an astronaut, including important work on the pioneering Apollo 9 and Apollo 12 missions, as well as the perilous flight of Apollo 13.
Nine months after his return from the moon, Worden received a phone call telling him he was fired and ordering him out of his office by the end of the week. He refused to leave.
What happened in those nine months, from being honored with parades and meetings with world leaders to being unceremoniously fired, has been a source of much speculation for four decades. Worden has never before told the full story around the dramatic events that shook NASA and ended his spaceflight career. Readers will learn them here for the first time, along with the exhilarating account of what it is like to journey to the moon and back. It's an unprecedentedly candid account of what it was like to be an Apollo astronaut, with all its glory but also its pitfalls.
history and military topography. Of course, I had no time to practice the piano, so I gave it up for many years. My world shrank to within the walls of West Point. For the whole first year, we were not allowed to leave campus or go home. My parents scraped together the money to visit me at Christmas, driving the whole way and sleeping in a trailer. But even then, I could not leave the campus. The rules eased up a little in my second year; I could go home for Christmas and take a month’s leave in
officer who many assumed would head the air force some day. But he did continue to be promoted by NASA. He stayed with the agency as a civilian and was promoted to director of the Flight Research Center. I left NASA behind and started a new chapter in my life. For a while I worked on business partnership plans with Ed Cole, the former president of General Motors, renewing my lifelong interest in cars. Then, striking out on my own, I started an energy management company. I helped to develop a
Farnborough, I flew at least thirteen varieties, from a tiny de Havilland Chipmunk propeller airplane all the way up to a Vickers Viscount airliner that could seat around fifty passengers. We flew a wonderful diversity of unique aircraft with intriguing names like Provost, Devon, Scimitar, Canberra, and Sea Hawk. We even flew gliders: it was pilot heaven. The British philosophy was that we were pilots, so we should be able to fly anything. It was quite different from the American mindset of
rendezvous. As I shook his hand, Schirra looked me right in the eye. “You know, Worden,” he told me sternly, “you’ve got to understand something from the start. You don’t count for anything around here.” I knew he was testing me. I remembered a flippant saying from West Point that the only people whom the students outranked were the superintendent’s pet cat and anyone serving in the navy. Taking a risk, I stared right back at him and said, “Sir, I realize I am only a captain in the air force,
really liked Jim, and I would have done anything for him. Still, I often wished that he would get angry, or at least say something, when these disagreements came up. He was not assertive about his input into the flight preparations, such as procedures and flight plans. Jim’s reticence left me to argue with Dave. Our arguments were a healthy process, but Jim receded in the face of even a healthy conflict. I would get so frustrated, because Jim would never stand up for anything, or even tell me if