Alfred Worden

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Alfred Worden
Al Worden Apollo 15 CMP.jpg
Worden pictured in 1971
Alfred Merrill Worden

(1932-02-07)February 7, 1932
DiedMarch 18, 2020(2020-03-18) (aged 88)
Other namesAlfred Merrill Worden
Alma materUSMA, B.S. 1955
UMich, M.S. 1963
OccupationFighter pilot, test pilot
AwardsNASA Distinguished Service Medal.jpg
Space career
NASA Astronaut
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel, USAF
Time in space
12d 07h 12m
Selection1966 NASA Group 5
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
38 minutes
MissionsApollo 15
Mission insignia
Apollo 15-insignia.png
RetirementSeptember 1, 1975

Alfred Merrill Worden (February 7, 1932 – March 18, 2020[1]; Col, USAF) was an American astronaut and engineer who was the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971. One of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, he orbited it 74 times in the Command Module Endeavour.

During Apollo 15's return flight to Earth, Worden performed an extravehicular activity to retrieve film cassettes from the exterior of the spacecraft, the Apollo command and service module. It was the first "deep space" EVA in history, at great distance from any planetary body. As of 2020, it remains one of only three such EVAs that have taken place, all during the Apollo program's J-missions.


The son of Merrill and Helen Worden, Worden was born February 7, 1932, in Jackson, Michigan.[2] The second of six children, and the oldest of the four boys, Worden lived on his family's farm outside the city of Jackson, though the family stayed part of the time at his maternal grandparents' farm near East Jordan.[3] He attended Dibble, Griswold, Bloomfield and East Jackson grade schools and graduated from Jackson High School,[4] where he was student council president.[5] Worden was a Boy Scout and earned the rank of First Class.[6]

His family was strapped for funds, so Worden sought a scholarship to enable his studies. He was able to secure one to the University of Michigan, but it was good for only one year. Seeing the U.S.'s service academies as his road to an education, Worden took an entrance examination, and was offered appointments both to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He selected West Point, and began his studies there in July 1951.[7]

Worden came to like the demanding life at West Point. In addition to his studies, he participated in cross country running, gymnastics and as a cheerleader.[8] He received a Bachelor of Science degree in military science from West Point in 1955.[2]

Military service

At the time Worden graduated from West Point, he had no piloting experience.[9] The United States Air Force Academy was not yet graduating cadets, and would not until 1959. Graduates of West Point and Annapolis were permitted to choose to be commissioned in the Air Force,[10] and some of Worden's instructors urged this course upon him. He chose the Air Force, thinking promotion would be faster, something he subsequently learned was not the case.[11]

Worden received primary flight training at Moore Air Force Base, Texas, where he learned to fly on T-34s, coming to love piloting.[2][12] He advanced for training at Laredo Air Force Base, Texas on Lockheed T-33 jet aircraft, and after eight months went on to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida for Air Defense Command training.[2][13] His first post-training assignment was with the 95th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C.[14] There, he served as a pilot and armaments officer from March 1957 until May 1961.[2]

Seeking both to advance his career and benefit the Air Force, Worden in 1961 asked to be sent to study aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. He gained the assignment.[15] He earned Master of Science degrees in astronautical/aeronautical engineering and instrumentation engineering from the University of Michigan in 1963.[2]

After graduation, Worden applied for U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, but to his surprise, he was not selected. He learned that his superiors wanted him to be part of an exchange program with Britain's Royal Air Force and be trained at the Empire Test Pilots' School in Farnborough, England. Since that course would not begin for six months, Worden spent the time at the Randolph Air Force Base Instrument Pilots Instructor School. After successfully completing the course at Farnborough, Worden served as an instructor at the Aerospace Research Pilots School, from which he graduated in September 1965.[2] [16]

NASA career

Early assignments

Focused on his job in the Air Force, Worden took little interest in the initial stages of America's crewed spaceflight program.[17] By 1963, he was more intrigued by the possibility of becoming an astronaut; he related in his autobiography that he put his name in for selection to NASA's third group of astronauts, but was told that though NASA was interested in him even without test pilot experience, he was ruled out by his pending orders to Farnborough, with which the agency could not interfere. Worden believed he would be beyond NASA's age limit when next free to consider such a career option, and so believed he would never be an astronaut.[18]

NASA's recruitment for its fifth group of astronauts took place in 1965, at the same time the Air Force was seeking to recruit for its own program the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, with qualified pilots in the Air Force free to apply for either or both. Believing, as it proved correctly, that the Air Force program would never get off the ground, Worden chose to apply only to NASA, which he did in September 1965. He wrote in his memoir that "professionally, I figured it couldn't get any better than that. Even being a test pilot couldn't compare with being an astronaut an making a spaceflight".[19] Worden stated in 1971, "I guess it was just an urge to go higher and faster."[20] He was one of the 19 selected by NASA in April 1966.[21]

Having been urged by NASA superiors to have plenty of astronauts available for the many hoped-for Apollo missions, Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton, the astronauts' supervisor, hired all of the Group 5 candidates he considered qualified, nineteen in all. Budget cuts and the diversion of funds to other programs meant there would be relatively few Apollo flights, and Worden and the other selectees received something of a cold shoulder from some more senior astronauts as the competition for spots on Apollo flights intensified.[22]

Worden served as a member of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 9 flight and as backup Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 12 flight.[23][24]

Apollo 15

Worden served as Command Module Pilot for Apollo 15, which flew from July 26 to August 7, 1971. His companions on the flight were David Scott, spacecraft commander, and James B. Irwin, Lunar Module Pilot.[25] Apollo 15 was the fourth crewed lunar landing mission and the first to visit and explore the Moon's Hadley Rille and Montes Apenninus which are located on the southeast edge of the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains).[26] Apollo 15's achievements include the largest payloads placed in Earth and lunar orbits at that time, the first scientific instrument module bay flown and operated on an Apollo spacecraft, the longest lunar surface stay at that time (the Apollo Lunar Module, Falcon, remained on ground for 66 hours and 54 minutes), the longest lunar surface stay to that point (Scott and Irwin logged 18 hours and 35 minutes each during three EVAs onto the lunar surface), the longest distance traversed on lunar surface at that time, the first use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle, the first use of a lunar surface navigation device (mounted on Rover-1), the first subsatellite launched in lunar orbit, and the first EVA from a command module during transearth coast.[27][9] Worden himself did not walk on the moon during the Apollo15 spacewalk, he did do a spacewalk on the return flight to capture film from the spacecraft's cameras.[28]

Additionally, Worden has been listed in Guinness World Records as the "Most isolated human being" during his time alone in the command module Endeavour. He orbited the Moon 74 times. When the orbiting command module was at its greatest distance from Scott and Irwin in the Falcon, Worden was 2,235 miles (3,597 km) away from any other human beings.[29] Worden said he enjoyed his "three wonderful days in a spacecraft all by myself", including being out of contact with Earth while on the far side of the Moon, because he was used to being alone as a fighter pilot.[30][31]

Worden performing humanity's first deep-space EVA during Apollo 15's homeward journey (1971)

Scott and Irwin collected approximately 171 pounds (78 kg) of lunar surface materials on their three expeditions onto the lunar surface, and Worden logged 38 minutes in extravehicular activity outside 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, performing the first deep-space EVA,[32][33] and reported his personal observations of the general condition of equipment housed there. Apollo 15 concluded with a Pacific splashdown and subsequent recovery by USS Okinawa. In completing his space flight, Worden logged 295 hours and 11 minutes in space.[2]

Although the astronauts were allowed to choose the design for the patch, they were not allowed to put on the Roman numeral for 15 ("XV"). They got around this technicality by adding it to the Moon's surface in the background.[34]

He also received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree in Astronautical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1971.[35]

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.[2] Between 1972 and 1975, he made seven guest appearances on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.[35]

After retirement from NASA and active duty in 1975, Worden became president of Maris Worden Aerospace, Inc., and then became staff vice president of Goodrich Aerospace in Brecksville, Ohio. Worden served as chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation until 2011, providing scholarships to exceptional science and engineering students.[36]

In 2011, Worden's memoir Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut's Journey to the Moon made the top 12 of the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list.[37] He also wrote Hello Earth: Greetings from Endeavour (1974), a collection of poetry, in 1974, and a children’s book, I Want to Know About a Flight to the Moon (1974).[35]

In 2017, Worden was also a contributor and wrote the foreword for the award-winning book A Quarter Million Steps by Dr. Anthony Paustian that looks at leadership using perspectives from the Apollo Program.[38]

Stamp incident

After the return of Apollo 15 to Earth, it was discovered that, without authority, the crew had taken 398 commemorative postal covers to the Moon. Of these, 100 were then sold to a German stamp dealer. The profits of the sale would have been used to establish trust funds for the crew's children. Although their action was not in any way illegal, and despite the fact that NASA had turned a blind eye to similar activities on earlier flights, NASA administration decided to make an example of Scott and his crew and none of them flew in space again. In an interview on the television show Good Morning Britain (aired September 29, 2017), Worden defended himself over the stamp incident, saying that his commander had brought the stamps, not he.[39]

Post-NASA activities

Worden receiving NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award in 2009

In 1982, Worden ran for the United States House of Representatives in Florida's 12th congressional district but lost the Republican primary to state senator Tom Lewis.[40] He sold some of the postal covers, which had been divided among the three astronauts, to pay debts from this unsuccessful campaign. Despite the loss, Worden referred to his run as the high point of his life, "I thought that was a very important thing to do. I put everything into it and lost, but that is okay."[31]

Worden received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1971. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1983.[41][42] He was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1997.[43][44] In 2009 Worden was honored with a NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award.[45] In 2016, Worden was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.[46]

In 2018, Worden joined the Back to Space organization as an Astronaut Consultant with the goal of inspiring the next generation to go to Mars through film.[47]

Personal life

Worden married Pamela Vander Beek, whom he met on a blind date while a cadet, in June 1955. The couple divorced in December 1969, just before Worden was selected to fly on Apollo 15. Worden married Jill Lee Hotchkiss in July 1982. She died in 2014.[9] Worden had three daughters, Tamara Christians, Merrill Bohanning, and Alison Penczak. His recreational interests included bowling, water skiing, golf and racquetball.[2]

Worden died of a stroke on March 18, 2020, at an assisted living center in Sugar Land, Texas. He was 88.[9][35][48][49][50][51]

In popular culture

In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon Worden was played by Michael Raynor.[28]


  • Hello Earth; Greetings from Endeavour, Nash Publishing (1974), ISBN 0-8402-1343-3
  • I Want to Know About a Flight to the Moon, Doubleday; 1st edition (1974), ISBN 0-385-05837-3
  • Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut's Journey to the Moon with Francis French, Smithsonian Books (2011), ISBN 978-1-58834-309-3

See also


  1. ^ "NASA Remembers Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden". NASA. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Alfred Merrill Worden". NASA. 1993. Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved October 31, 2007.
  3. ^ Worden & French 2011, 118–131.
  4. ^ "Jackson High School Alumni Webpage". Viking Alumni. The Yearbook Network. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  5. ^ "Jackson High School Yearbook". Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  6. ^ "Scouting and Space Exploration". Boy Scouts of America. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  7. ^ Worden & French, 367–400.
  8. ^ Worden & French, 449–462.
  9. ^ a b c d Goldstein, Richard (March 18, 2020). "Alfred M. Worden, Who Orbited the Moon in 1971, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  10. ^ Simon, Steven (April 4, 2014). "Celebrating the Air Force Academy's 60th anniversary". Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  11. ^ Worden & French 2011, 588–597.
  12. ^ Worden & French 2011, 625–676.
  13. ^ Worden & French 2011, 689–728.
  14. ^ Worden & French 2011, 767–771.
  15. ^ Worden & French 2011, 854–858.
  16. ^ Worden & French 2011, 897–919.
  17. ^ Worden & French 2011, 857–870.
  18. ^ Worden & French 2011, 870–890.
  19. ^ Worden & French 2011, 1071–1079.
  20. ^ "Men in News". The New York Times. July 27, 1971.
  21. ^ Thompson, Ronald (April 5, 1966). "19 New Spacemen Are Named". The High Point Enterprise. High Point, North Carolina. p. 2A – via
  22. ^ Worden & French 2011, 1261–1309.
  23. ^ Woods, David; Vignaux, Andrew. "Preparations for Launch". Apollo Flight Journal. NASA. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  24. ^ "Apollo 12 Crew". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  25. ^ "Apollo 15 Crew". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  26. ^ "Landing Site Overview". Lunar and Planetary Institute. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  27. ^ Orloff, Richard W. (2004) [2000]. Apollo by the Numbers: A Statistical Reference (PDF). NASA History Series. Washington, D.C.: NASA. pp. 183–200. ISBN 978-0-16-050631-4. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  28. ^ a b De Vito, John; Tropea, Frank (2010). Epic Television Miniseries: A Critical History. McFarland. p. 195. ISBN 978-0786457335 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ Young, Mark C., ed. (1997). The Guinness Book of World Records 1997. Bantam Books. p. 149. ISBN 0-553-57684-4.
  30. ^ Hollingham, Richard (April 2, 2013). "Al Worden: 'The loneliest human being'". BBC. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  31. ^ a b Valare, Sherry (July 2015). "Al Worden on the honor of being an astronaut". RocketSTEM (13): 14.
  32. ^ Foust, Jeff (August 8, 2011). "Review: Falling to Earth". The Space Review.
  33. ^ LePage, Andrew (December 17, 2017). "A History of Deep Space EVAs". Drew Ex Machina.
  34. ^ Worden, Alfred (September 16, 2014). Worden Speech on Apollo 15 Patch (Speech). Limerick, Ireland. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  35. ^ a b c d "NASA Remembers Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden". NASA. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  36. ^ "Board Members". Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Archived from the original on July 25, 2008.
  37. ^ Hannon, Shane (December 15, 2014). "From Michigan to the Moon". The Space Review. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  38. ^ Paustian, Anthony (2017). A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change. Bookpress. ISBN 978-0996442893.
  39. ^ "Al Worden: The Man Who Flew Around the Moon 75 Times". Good Morning Britain. September 29, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2017 – via YouTube.
  40. ^ "Worden, Koehler Defeated in House District 12". Boca Raton News. Associated Press. September 8, 1982 – via Google News.
  41. ^ "Alfred M. Worden: Piloted the command module on Apollo 15 lunar mission". New Mexico Museum of Space History. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  42. ^ Sheppard, David (October 2, 1983). "Space Hall Inducts 14 Apollo Program Astronauts". El Paso Times. El Paso, Texas. p. 18 – via
  43. ^ "Al Worden". Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  44. ^ Meyer, Marilyn (October 2, 1997). "Ceremony to Honor Astronauts". Florida Today. Cocoa, Florida. p. 2B – via
  45. ^ "NASA Honors Apollo Astronaut Al Worden with Moon Rock" (Press release). NASA. July 29, 2009. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  46. ^ Sprekelmeyer, Linda, ed. (2006). These We Honor: The International Aerospace Hall of Fame. Donning Co. Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57864-397-4. OCLC 71812756.
  47. ^ "The Team". Back To Space. February 5, 2018. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  48. ^ "Apollo astronaut Al Worden, who orbited the Moon, dies at 88". collectSPACE. March 18, 2020. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  49. ^ Beutel, Allard (March 18, 2020). "NASA Administrator Statement on Apollo Astronaut Al Worden". NASA. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  50. ^ "Col. Alfred M. Worden, 1932-2020". Air Force Magazine. March 18, 2020. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  51. ^ Christina Maxouris; Andy Rose. "Astronaut Al Worden, who circled the moon and once earned record for 'most isolated human being,' has died". CNN. Retrieved March 19, 2020.


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