Remembering Apollo astronaut Al Worden
Al Worden at the Paris Air Show in 2017, official NASA portrait, 1971
Author, NASA

Remembering Apollo astronaut Al Worden

Apollo astronaut Alfred Merrill “Al” Worden’s STEM advocacy continues to inspire.

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NASA Astronaut and Apollo 15 Command Module pilot, Col. Al Worden, USAF (Ret.), died in Houston Texas, March 17, 2020, at age 88.

Worden piloted the Endeavour command module for Apollo 15 in 1971, the fourth lunar landing mission and the first to use a lunar rover. Remaining in orbit while commander David Scott and lunar module pilot James B. Irwin explored Hadley Rille and the Apennine Mountains, Worden photographed the lunar surface and made other observations.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine remarked on Worden’s flight as Apollo 15 command module pilot, “He earned a world record as ‘most isolated human being’ while his crew mates roamed the lunar surface, and he was 2,235 miles away from anyone else.”

On the return trip, Worden made a spacewalk to retrieve film from an instrument module on the Apollo spacecraft while it was 196,000 miles from Earth.

After leaving the astronaut corps, Worden became Senior Aerospace Scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California from 1972 to 1973, then chief of the Systems Study Division until retiring in 1975.

Worden later became president of Maris Worden Aerospace Inc. and was vice-president of BF Goodrich Aerospace, Brecksville, Ohio, among other industry positions.

Worden wrote several books: a collection of poetry, “Hello Earth: Greetings from Endeavour” (1974); a children’s book, “I Want to Know About a Flight to the Moon” (1974); and a memoir, “Falling to Earth” (2011). His interest in educating children about space led to multiple appearances on the children’s show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

In recent years, Worden was a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. aerospace industry at Kallman Worldwide USA Partnership Pavilion events at major international air shows.

Kallman established the Astronaut Al Worden Endeavour Scholarship Foundation to recognize the Apollo 15 command module pilot and global advocate for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The scholarship pays expenses for select students and teachers to spend a week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.

Worden said at the 2019 Paris Air Show, “As a lifelong advocate for education and exploration, I am deeply honored and excited to lend my name and experience to this international Space Camp program. When you consider the decades of rigor and discipline it’s going to take to successfully put people from Earth on Mars, and that getting to Mars is just one of the countless engineering challenges we face on our own planet today, we need to pick up the pace. The pipeline for STEM talent can handle a lot more volume.”

Worden embodied the test pilot’s Right Stuff, his no-nonsense demeanor reminding me of a stern high-school coach. But his manner warmed when he spoke at the Kallman events I attended, patiently answering visitors’ questions – doubtless ones he’d answered hundreds of times before – long after it was time to leave. He was a tireless advocate for returning humans to the moon and going to Mars, and the urgent need to train the next generation of engineers around the world to get us on our way.