Al Worden, the command module pilot for the 1971 Apollo 15 lunar mission and the first astronaut to conduct a deep-space spacewalk, died Wednesday at the age of 88.
Worden died while he slept after being checked into a rehab center in Houston following treatment for an infection, friend and colleague Tom Kallman told the Associated Press.
Worden flew the Apollo 15 command module Endeavor alone around the moon while his fellow crew members David Scott and Jim Irwin descended to the lunar surface to drive the first moon buggy on the moon.
Worden was born and raised in Jackson, Mich. and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1955. He went on to commission as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and attended test pilot school.
From the Air Force, Worden went on to join NASA’s fifth-ever astronaut class in 1966 and served with NASA until 1975.
During the Apollo 15 flight, he conducted the first-ever deep-space spacewalk — approximately 200,000 miles from Earth. During the 38-minute spacewalk, he inspected the command module’s instruments and retrieved film.
Apollo 15 was Worden’s first and only spaceflight. The entire Apollo 15 crew became mired in a controversy after it was discovered they brought a few hundred stamped postal covers with them on their mission and had intended to sell them to establish a fund for their children’s education. Worden, himself the father of three daughters, said he believed his crew had disclosed the action in their flight manifest, but assessed he may have been mistaken.
“Some senator or some congressman asked the question, and they caved under right away and tried to get rid of us,” Worden said of the incident. “Nobody stood up for us. Nobody.”
Worden expressed surprise at the punishment for his crew’s actions and said the behavior wasn’t unheard of among past space crews. Nevertheless, as a consequence of the incident, none of the Apollo 15 crew ever went on to another space flight.
“We probably didn’t do the smartest thing in the world, but we didn’t do anything that was illegal,” Worden said. “We didn’t do anything that anybody else hadn’t done, but the consequences were rather severe to us.”
Worden went on to sue the U.S. government in 1983 to win back the stamp covers.
After the Apollo 15 mission, Worden worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. and later joined Kallman, a New Jersey businessman, to promote science, engineering and math education. He also wrote several books about his spaceflight including a 1974 children’s book “I Want to Know about a Flight to the Moon.”
Worden also established a scholarship for young international recipients to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
“That foundation lives on and he lives on through it as well,” Kallman said.
On Wednesday, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin tweeted his condolences for Worden, with reference to the West Point Alma Mater song. Aldrin and Worden both attended the service academy.
— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) March 18, 2020
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed his condolences on Twitter on Wednesday, and described Worden as an “American Hero.”
I’m deeply saddened to hear that Apollo astronaut Al Worden has passed away. Al was an American hero whose achievements in space and on Earth will never be forgotten. My prayers are with his family and friends. https://t.co/ZUx1yMv6iJ pic.twitter.com/Y7F6RT1foZ
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) March 18, 2020