Colonel Alfred Worden served as command module pilot for Apollo 15 – the fourth manned mission to the moon – from July 26 to August 7, 1971. Nick Ames talks with him for The Ethicalist
Apollo 15 was the ninth manned mission in the United States’ Apollo program and the fourth to land on the moon. It was also the first mission on which the Lunar Roving Vehicle was used.
Command Module Pilot – now Colonel – Alfred Worden orbited the Moon to study the lunar surface and environment. He was joined by Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin both of whom spent three days on the Moon, including 18½ hours outside the spacecraft.
Col. Alfred Worden still holds a record for the furthest deep space walk in mankind’s history.
1. You were command module pilot of Apollo 15. For our readers who are not familiar with the space programme can you explain your role and its importance?
My role in the flight was to fly the entire Command Module and Lunar Module to the moon and return with to earth with the Command Module. I docked with the Lunar Module while it was in position after the launch, and extracted it for the rest of the flight. I also directed the trajectory of the combined space craft so that we arrived at the moon as planned. Once in lunar orbit, I controlled the orbit to fly over the landing site so that Dave Scott and Jim Irwin could fly the lunar module to the surface. While they were on the surface I flew for three days, alone in lunar orbit conducting scientific experiments and visual observations of the lunar surface. Once the surface work was finished Dave and Jim launched from the moon and joined me in orbit. When all work was finished I flew the Command Module back to earth. So, I did most of the flying on the flight.
2. What was especially significant about the Apollo 15 mission?
Apollo 15 was the most scientific flight in the program. We studied and trained for 1-1/2 years on the experiments we were to conduct while on the flight. To accomplish all of our tasks we carried a Lunar Rover for use on the lunar surface, and a Scientific Module in orbit to record and map the lunar surface. These devices were used for the first time on our flight and added greatly to our knowledge of the Moon.
3. Your orbit took you further away from your colleagues on the moon than other solo astronauts before or since, making you ‘the loneliest human who has ever existed’. How did it feel being so isolated?
I enjoyed that part of the flight. I was a trained fighter pilot and was very comfortable when by myself. The time alone also gave me the freedom to work unhindered in the small and cramped space of the Command Module. I never felt isolated as I had a radio I could use to talk to Mission Control and the crew on the surface. A really great time for me.
4. Did you have anything (music maybe?) to keep you company?
I carried a library of music with me on the flight. I had some Beatles music that I really liked, and also had John Denver, The Air Force Song and others to keep me company. I played the music frequently and enjoyed it while doing my work.
5. What was the most memorable part of the mission?
I would have to say that the most important and memorable time of flight was when I did a space walk on the way home. It was necessary to recover film canisters from two cameras that were located in the service module and store them in the Command Module for safe return to earth. I was able to stand up on the service module and look around, and I could see both the earth and the moon at the same time. It was an amazing time and a wonderful view of the two planets.
6. How does the Earth look from space and what were your feelings on seeing it as a planet?
The Earth is very small when seen from Moon. Not much bigger than the Moon from here, and the only colourful object in the solar system. I felt very attached to it as a planet, because it was our home. It was a very emotional time for me as I looked at it, knowing that so many people lived there and where I had lived my life before the flight.
7. Has the space programme progressed as you feel it should or are you a little disappointed humanity has not progressed further in the field?
I think the space program has been somewhat diminished since Apollo due to political pressures. However, I also believe that the ups and downs of the program are normal and in time we will see a renewed effort in space. Human nature will eventually force a more vigorous program to extend our reach further into the universe to search for and find another planet that will will be compatible with human existence.
8. How can projects such as spaceflight connect individuals from different nations and cultures?
Space Flight is a common issue with all humans because only in space will we find another planet to live on when we cannot live here any more. It is a great unifying effort for all people and I see it as a platform for cooperation between countries and people in the future. We all have a common view of the universe and that view will act as a catalyst for future cooperative programs between nations and cultures.
9. What lessons can be learnt from space exploration to help humanity take greater care of the Earth?
I believe that we are beginning to understand the forces that control our planet as a result of seeing the Earth from a distance. This might be the single most important thing to come from the Apollo program, a view of the Earth as a small object in the solar system and universe. If we can promote that view to the whole world, then the national barriers that are currently in place can be removed and a truly non political program can be achieved.
10.The UAE has announced several space orientated projects, such as a simulated Mars city. Did you feel on your recent visit these projects are attainable?
The UAE is the perfect place to initiate space projects. It is in a unique position in the world, non political, and between east and west. I think the UAE vision for space is real and can be achieved, and it will also draw help form both sides of the Earth. There is no question in my mind that the vision and goals of the UAE Space program are attainable.