Al Worden (1932-2020)

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Alfred “Al” Worden, a very great friend and Honorary Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Al Worden was the Command Module pilot for Apollo 15.

One of 24 people to have flown to the Moon, he spent three days in lunar orbit while fellow astronauts David Scott and James Irwin explored the surface.

On the highest of his orbits aboard the command module Endeavour, Worden was adjudged to have been the world’s most isolated human being. The orbiting module was 2235 miles (3597 kilometres) away from Scott and Irwin at the time, and much much further away from the rest of humanity.

He was also the first astronaut to conduct an extravehicular activity (EVA) outside Earth orbit during Apollo 15’s return trip from the Moon, retrieving film cassettes from cameras stored outside.

Born in Michigan in 1932, he was the second in a family of six children, growing up on a farm outside of a town called Jackson. 

Always fascinated by aviation and single-minded in purpose, he went from his family farm to the University of Michigan and then on to the US Military Academy in West Point. Flying thousands of hours, he was acclaimed as one of the best US test pilots.

He was selected for NASA’s astronaut corps in 1966.

After the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, Worden and fellow future astronaut Jack Swigert devised procedures for the Apollo command and service modules. Worden served as a member of Apollo 9’s support crew, and was the backup command module pilot for Apollo 12.

Apollo 15 went to the Moon and back in July and August 1971.

Al Worden left NASA in 1975 and worked on aircraft technology development for the next 35 years.

In 2011, in collaboration with US-based British author Francis French, he wrote his autobiography: Falling To Earth.

To help publicise the book, Al started to give public appearances – perhaps more than any other astronaut over the course of last decade. For nine years and in his eighties by then, he was tireless and generous with his time with all who came to see him.

Al Worden as part of his flight training had attended rigorous flying courses in the 1950s at the Empire Test Pilots’ School in Farnborough and became very fond of the UK, visiting often.

During the BIS Reinventing Space conference in 2015, Al Worden was guest speaker. Al had given a humorous anecdote-filled talk of his Apollo mission. Behind the scenes, the British Interplanetary Society had worked with the Guinness organisation to verify the two Worden records. It was our pleasure to surprise him on stage with the unexpected appearance of a representative from Guinness World Records. He was recognised officially for both being the most isolated human being and the performance of the first deep space EVA.

After his talk, Al was as usual extremely unselfish and patient, spending valuable time inspiring the children of Oxford who had come to see him there.

Al subsequently became a great supporter of the BIS appearing as part of the Society’s team on such occasions as New Scientist Live, at the Royal Institution in London and all over the UK. He was especially active during many World Space Week events, organised by Vix Southgate. Al would not only meet the public but could be found building exhibition stands, designing presentations, wiring lighting and generally helping out behind the scenes. To recognise his achievements and selfless support of the Society, he was awarded one of the rarest BIS awards: Honorary Fellowship.

He will be greatly missed by us all.


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