Remembering Apollo astronaut Al Worden

Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden died in his sleep March 17 after a storied career that saw him become one of 24 people to visit the Moon.

For three days in 1971, Al Worden was the most isolated person in the world. Worden was the command module pilot for Apollo 15. As such, he spent three days in orbit around the moon while crewmates David Scott and Jim Irwin explored the lunar surface. The “Guiness Book of World Records” listed Worden as the “most isolated person” for this, because when the command module Falcon was at its greatest distance from Scott and Irwin, Worden was over 2,000 miles from any other human.

“NASA sends its condolences to the family and loved ones of Apollo astronaut Al Worden, an astronaut whose achievements in space and on Earth will not be forgotten,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Of his mission Worden said, ‘Now I know why I’m here. Not for a closer look at the Moon, but to look back at our home, the Earth.’ We remember this pioneer whose work expanded our horizons.”

Though he only flew into space once, Worden continued inspiring future generations by appearing multiple times on “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.”

Born in Jackson, Michigan on Feb. 7, 1932, Worden graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1955. He was soon commissioned into the Air Force and spent the next 11 years flying planes and jets. Worden amassed more than 4,000 flight hours and served as an instructor at the Aerospace Research Pilots School.

Worden was selected as an astronaut in 1966 as part of the fifth class of astronauts. His classmates included 18 others, eight of whom flew to the Moon and three of whom were moonwalkers. It also included Apollo 13 astronauts Jack Swigert and Fred Haise and STS-41 Bruce McCandless, who was the first astronaut to perform an untethered Extravehicular Activity (EVA).

During Apollo 15, Worden joined his crewmates in performing an EVA. His lasted 38 minutes after the Lunar Module Falcon reunited with the command module Endeavour. In completing his three excursions to Endeavour’s scientific instrument module bay, Worden retrieved
film cassettes from the panoramic and mapping cameras and reported his personal
observations of the general condition of equipment housed there.

He received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1971, the highest award given by the organization. During 1972–1973, Worden was Senior Aerospace Scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, and from 1973 to 1975 he was chief of the Systems Study Division at Ames.

Worden retired from NASA in 1975. He was inducted in three different Halls of Fame: the International Space Hall of Fame in 1983, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997, and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 2016.

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