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.
I came home. When I walked out of my apartment door in the early morning to grab my newspaper, I saw the moon in the sky. It shocked me to see it. It was bizarre to think that I was there just a few days before, flying across its peaks and valleys. The moon looked so different now: so very far away. It really gave me a new perspective on how far we had traveled. I’d been asked to skip breakfast that morning, as I headed back to my workplace for some more medical tests. Then we began many, many
the Apollo 15 mission grew to eclipse it once again. I was happy for that. I felt that was how it should be. But public perception and private whispering are two very different things. A group of retired astronauts is like a bunch of high school kids brought together for gossipy reunions. We only all worked together for a short period in our lives, but the whispering about each other went on forever. And I felt I was still considered tainted. My peers no longer shunned me, as they had when I left
take long walks. Of course, I would also take her to the Saturday night dance, where the army band would play old, slow songs like “Aura Lee” for us to dance to. Whenever I could get a weekend off in the summer, Pam and her parents would pick me up and we would go to the family’s private lake, up in the mountains near Binghamton. A lakeside cottage was one of the few things left from the family’s days of wealth. It was a great getaway where we could swim, boat, and rest on the shore without
strange: teaching at Edwards was an unusual arrangement. However, the test pilot school in England had taught me essentially the same skills I would have received in the basic flight test courses. I was given credit for the basic courses along with the students, while I wrote and taught the advanced courses. It was odd, graduating with the students I taught, but it suited everyone. I always felt slightly nervous around my boss, Chuck Yeager, as I still sensed that he didn’t like educated people
after the first lunar landing, the purse strings would open and we’d keep flying there for a long time. I fully expected to make a couple of flights and to command a landing on the moon. Once we arrived in Houston, it didn’t mean much that we had been selected as a group. We were pretty much on our own, and it was every man for himself. And some of those pilots saw this situation as a competition: a race to get selected for the best missions. Considering we were looked on as the new guys with