Astronaut Al Worden, known for his role as Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 15 lunar landing, passed away from a stroke on March 17, 2020, at an assisted living center in Sugar Land, Texas. He was 88 years old.
Alfred Merrill Worden was born on February 7, 1932, in Jackson, Michigan. In 1955, after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree, Worden was commissioned by the Air Force to receive flight training from the bases in Texas and Florida. Worden was also conferred Master of Science degrees in astronautical/aeronautical engineering and instrumentation engineering from the University of Michigan. In addition, he graduated from the Empire Test Pilots’ School and the Aerospace Research Pilots School – where he later served as an instructor.
Between March 1957 and May 1961, Worden served as a pilot and armament officer with the 95th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He also attended Randolph Air Force Base Instrument Pilots Instructor School, where he logged more than 4,000 hours flying time, including 2,500 hours in jets. Worden joined NASA in 1966, serving as a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 9 and later backup Command Module Pilot for Apollo 12. He served as Command Module Pilot with spacecraft commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin for Apollo 15. Apollo 15, which flew from July 26 to August 7, 1971, was the fourth crewed lunar landing mission and the first to visit and explore the Moon’s Hadley Rille and Montes Apenninus.
During his time alone in the command module, for which he earned the Guinness World Record for most isolated human being, Worden orbited the Moon 74 times. Although he never got to walk on the moon, Worden did perform three space walks. In completing his space flight, Worden logged 295 hours and 11 minutes in space. Worden went on to serve as Senior Aerospace Scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center and was chief of the Systems Study Division at Ames from 1973 to 1975. He officially retired from NASA and active duty in 1975. Throughout his later life, he served as president of Maris Worden Aerospace, Inc., staff vice president of Goodrich Aerospace, and chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation until 2011.
Outside of his space career, Worden also made several guest appearances on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “His multiple appearances on the children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood surely fueled the desire of many children to pursue careers along the lines of his and become future exploration leaders,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. Worden also penned the bestselling memoir Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut’s Journey to the Moon, the poetry collection “Hello Earth: Greetings from Endeavour,” and the children’s book, I Want to Know About a Flight to the Moon. Worden was also a contributor and wrote the foreword for Dr. Anthony Paustian’s award-winning book A Quarter Million Steps.
Across his long career, Worden received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame, the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame. More recently, 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.