Skip to comments.40 Years Ago This Month: Apollo 15 (long article)
Posted on 07/01/2011 6:51:19 AM PDT by chimera
In a letter dated August 9, 1971, Caltech Professor of Geology and Geophysics Dr. Gerald Wasserburg wrote to NASA administrator Robert R. Gilruth extending his congratulations for one of the most brilliant missions in space science ever flown. He was referring to the Apollo 15 mission, which began 40 years ago this month.
The flight of Apollo 15 marked the true beginning of lunar exploration from a scientific viewpoint. Lunar science was the primary focus of this mission, whereas engineering and geopolitical considerations had dominated the preceding lunar landings. Apollo 15 would make use of uprated equipment to enhance the scientific haul, including improved lunar backpacks (PLSS) for extended EVAs, an uprated lunar module for longer stays of up to three days on the surface, better television coverage from the surface, exploration equipment including the famous battery-powered lunar rover, a CSM crammed with observation equipment in a SIM (Scientific Instrument Module) bay, and a more powerful Saturn V to lift everything. These were the Apollo J missions, which were the final roll-of-the-dice for the Earthbound scientists who had staked much of their careers on the success of these latter missions.
Originally scheduled as the last of the H missions (along with Apollos 12-14), Apollo 15 was moved up to J mission status as a result of the budget ax being wielded by Congress in the early 1970s, with NASA being a prime target. The Apollo program had planned for flights to the moon through Apollo 20, which unfortunately became the first victim of cuts when the Saturn V planned for its use was requisitioned for the Skylab project. Almost immediately thereafter, Apollos 19 and 18 were cancelled, with their already-built equipment being either scrapped or used as museum pieces. Some have likened this to purchasing a Rolls Royce and then scrapping it for lack of gasoline money. But such is life in the world of government programs. So the scramble was on to re-task Apollo 15 from an H to a J mission.
Equally important was the landing target for this flight. Geologists argued over the merits of two candidate sites, Marius Hills or the Hadley-Apennine site eventually selected. Marius Hills was thought to be a site where somewhat rare volcanic rocks might be found, owing to the volcanic dome-like features seen in terrestrial and orbital photographs of the region. The Hadley site offered a variety of geological features, a mare area, mountainous terrain, the sinuous Hadley Rille, and a multitude of crater types. The variety of these features and the location of the site on the lunar surface held out the prospect of discovering pieces of the primordial lunar crust. While more challenging for a safe landing, the Hadley site was selected in late September 1970. The landing site is somewhat north of the lunar equator along the southeastern edge of Mare Imbrium. Here is a distant view of the Hadley-Apennine region showing the eventual landing site:
The large mountain to the upper right is Mount Hadley, while Mount Hadley Delta is just south of the LM location. Hadley Rille slashes a meandering north-south trail across the image. Here is a closer view showing the eventual EVA traverses:
The Apennine mountains rise about 15,000 feet over the landing site, making the approach and landing a challenge not experienced in previous missions.
Apollo 15 was the first to make use of the uprated Saturn V. The engines had been significantly improved, bringing the total 1st stage thrust to a little over 7.6 million pounds. This allowed for an additional 7000 pounds of payload. The added payload capacity was well-used in the form of extra fuel and consumables in both the CSM and LM, the lunar rover (about 500 pounds by itself), and the CSM SIM bay, which included things like the Particle and Fields subsatellite, various cameras, a gamma ray spectrometer, mass spectrometer, and laser altimeter.
The launch of Apollo 15 occurred at 9:34 EDT on July 26, 1971, from launch complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, with the ever-reliable Saturn V providing typically spectacular visuals:
It carried an all-Air Force crew including Mission Commander David R. Scott, Command Module Pilot Alfred M. Worden, and Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin. Considering the Air Force credentials of the crew, the code name for the LM, Falcon, was a no-brainer. The CM code name, Endeavour, gives honor to the famous exploration ship HMS Endeavour, commanded by Captain James Cook. Mission Commander Scott had recently come across a childrens book on explorers than had mentioned Cooks expeditions of discovery, and so thought it appropriate to name the CM of the first fully scientific exploration of the moon after this earlier vessel of discovery.
Everything proceeded normally until Day 2. Entering the LM to do a TV broadcast, a broken glass cover on the range and range-rate tapemeter was discovered. Only the outer of two glass covers was broken, but there was concern since this was a critical instrument. The tapemeter itself appeared to be undamaged, but shards of broken glass floating around the cabin were a concern because they could be inhaled, interfere with the EVA suits, or lodge in the eyes of the crew. Considerable effort was expended to collect the broken pieces, using a vacuum hose, suspended strips of sticky tape, and simply grabbing pieces as they floated by. Here is a picture of the offending instrument, whose outer glass cover is clearly shattered:
A tapemeter works by having pre-printed values on a tape move past fiducial marks on the display window. That way, things like needles, gauges, and digital displays are avoided. The tape moves up or down past the indexing marks on the display.
A few hours later, a leak was discovered in the CM water system. This was a concern since water was a crucial consumable, not only for drinking but also cooling the equipment in the spacecraft. A water leak in zero gravity presents some challenges, not the least of which was estimating the leak rate. In a gravity environment, you can count the drips occurring in a set amount of time. Without gravity, water tends to cling and form a blob around the leak point. Mission Commander Scott was able to stop the leak by tightening a valve in the chlorination system where the water had accumulated around a fitting. The crew then mopped up the leakage with towels, which were then hung up to dry in an improvised clothesline in the lower equipment bay of the CM.
Day 4 of the mission involved preparations for and insertion into lunar orbit. A few hours before going into lunar orbit, the SIM bay cover on the Service Module was jettisoned to uncover the scientific instruments to be used in lunar orbit. Since this had not been done in prior missions, the crew wore their sealed pressure suits as a precaution against cabin depressurization. As the cover was blown off the SM with explosive cord, the astronauts heard a bang-whump noise and felt the entire joined spacecraft lurch and shudder. It was very similar to what the Apollo 13 crew reported when they had the near-disastrous cryosystem failure that disabled their spacecraft and threatened their lives. This confirmed after-the-fact that much of the damage in the Apollo 13 incident was a result of the overpressurization and subsequent blow-out of the SM side panel. In Apollo 15, the same panel ejection occurred but in a planned, controlled manner, which of course did not damage the spacecraft. Here is what the CM/SM looks like with the SIM bay open:
After attaining lunar orbit, the next step was the descent orbit insertion maneuver, which was planned for Day 5. As with Apollo 14, this mission used the SPS engine to drop into the lower orbit to save LM fuel, which allows heavier LM payloads. Certainly this came in handy for Apollo 15 and its heavy scientific payload. The low point of the orbit was initially only 9.5 nautical miles above the surface, and it occurred over the landing site, affording a spectacular view as the combined LM-CSM skimmed over the tops of the lunar mountains. The view became even more spectacular when their orbit decayed to a low point of only 7.6 nautical miles, which required a slight firing of the Reaction Control System to raise the orbit back to 9.6 nautical miles.
Commander Scott and LM Pilot Irwin transferred to the LM and began checking it out on the 11th lunar orbit. After checkout was completed, which took about one complete lunar orbit, it was time for LM-CSM separation, which was scheduled for the far side of the moon, out of contact with Mission Control. CM Pilot Worden threw the switch for LM separation and nothing happened. The LM remained attached to the CSM, as if it had developed a mechanical case of separation anxiety. Once in contact with Earth, the crew reported the non-separation and that they were checking various connections and systems. Controllers at Houston noted that a temperature reading for the docking probe assembly was reading off-scale high, which on thermocouples could indicate a broken connection. It could be that the cable umbilical was either disconnected of not firmly seated in its connector. The hatch separating the spacecraft was removed and the connector unplugged and re-inserted. This brought the temperature readings back to normal. The hatch was sealed and pressurized, and when separation was attempted again it was successful. The umbilical connection was the problem. Once again, having the manned presence saved what otherwise might have been a mission-ending failure.
Once powered descent began, the LM crew had no problems with either hardware or software (unlike Apollos 11 and 14). The approach to the landing site was singularly spectacular, with the peaks of the Apennine Mountains looming above them as they swooped in for a landing just short of Hadley Rille, threading a needle between mountain peaks flanking either side of the approach to the Hadley plain. The landing site was very dusty, which obscured the view of the surface more than had been the case in prior landing. Scott essentially had to do an instrument landing based on Irwins calls of altitude and descent rate. After the Contact Light illuminated, Scott cut the engine and the Falcon, significantly heavier than earlier LMs, dropped to the surface with a jarring thud that shook all of the equipment in the cabin. Irwin exclaimed his surprise at the rough landing by mimicking the sound, Bam!, which some transcripts of the landing dialog report as Damn!, but Irwin denied the use of the expletive. The LM pitched and rolled several degrees off the vertical, before finally settling. It was later discovered that the LM had landed on the rim of a small crater, with one of its legs actually resting in the crater. The tilt was about 10 degrees off vertical. The descent engine bell was also slightly damaged by the impact. The LM ascent stage could have lifted off safely with up to a 15 degree tilt, so while cutting it close, there was no danger to the crew. The historic landing occurred at 6:16 p.m. EDT on July 26, 1971. Here is a picture taken later showing the inclination of the lander from the vertical. Note the engine bell is essentially in contact with the surface:
After securing the LM systems and a short rest, about two hours after landing Commander Scott performed the first (and only) stand-up EVA of the Apollo missions. This was a result of his geology training with Caltech geology Professor Lee Silver. He instructed the Apollo crews that when initially surveying a new site at which you want to do field geology, the first thing you do it go to an elevated spot and look around and describe what you see. The elevated spot was the ascent engine cover inside the LM, and the docking hatch provided the means to obtain a view of the surroundings. So with the LM depressurized, Scott stood up and poked his head out of the hatch for the first views of the lunar mountains by humans, in person, up close. The view was overwhelming in its majesty. With the low sun angle, the slopes of the nearby peaks glowed a pearly gold and brown, with craters scarring the soft beige of the lunar surface. Scott was impressed by the gently rounded shapes of the peaks. There was no jagged, rugged appearance. For those of us raised on the science fiction of the 1950s, depicting the lunar surface as a jumble of sheer cliffs and razor-sharp peaks, this was surprising. Jim Irwin later said that the area reminded him of Sun Valley, with the lunar dust substituting for snow, lending a rolling, rounded shape to the mountains and surrounding land. Dave Scott took a series of telephoto pictures for the geologists back on Earth. This is a view of a feature called Silver Spur, named after their teacher:
This is of Mt. Hadley Delta. The large, shadowed gouge in the slope of the mountain is St. George Crater:
In both pictures, the linear features, evidence of layering and the geologic processes that produce it, are clearly visible.
The upper hatch was closed after about 33 minutes of observation by Scott, after which another rest period of seven hours duration. For the first time in the Apollo program, the lunar residents did not have to wear their bulky pressure suits while sleeping. Jim Irwin noted with amazement how his 1/6-weight body settled comfortably into the sleeping hammocks slung across the LM cabin. It was going to be a busy day and they needed their rest. It was their most restful time on the surface, and they each got about five hours of restful sleep, much better than previous crews that had to deal with the uncomfortable pressure suits.
The first EVA (moonwalk) began at 9:13 a.m. EDT on July 31st, with Mission Commander Scott, as per established protocol, stepping first onto the lunar surface. High-quality color television was available on this mission, which captured Scott as he descended the LM ladder onto the surface:
The video system used on Apollo 15 really brought television coverage of the Apollo missions to a very high level of quality. The images obtained on Apollo 15 and later missions were a far cry from the fuzzy, bloomy images of Apollo 11, amazing as those were. TV never really had a chance on Apollo 12, as the camera was damaged by pointing it directly at the sun. Apollo 13 never reached the lunar surface. Apollo 14 did better with TV coverage, but the camera was stationary and only set up at the LM site. Once the astronauts ventured further away, it was pretty boring, although we did get to see Al Shepards famous 6-iron golf shot out of the lunar sandtrap. Apollo 15 had a rover-mounted camera controllable from Earth, with a high-gain antenna for transmitting good signal strength. This was called the Ground-Commanded Television Assembly. RCA and NASA worked very hard to improve video quality, eliminating sources of static and making sure all relay stations in the ground network would pass on high-quality images for transmission to commercial TV networks.
Assembly of the lunar rover was complicated by the tilt of the LM on the surface, but this was overcome. With the men pulling on lanyards at either end, the rover body dropped down and more or less assembled itself, with the front and back parts springing open. The crew merely inserted locking pins to hold everything in place, and then lowered the completed assembly to the surface. In the 1/6 lunar gravity, the rover weighed a little over 80 pounds total, so it was about a 40 pound lift for each crewman. Not too bad, even for a weakling like me.
Here is one of my favorite Apollo pictures, showing Jim Irwin saluting the American flag, the lunar rover parked nearby, the LM behind him (note again the backward tilt), and the majestic Mount Hadley Delta soaring above everything in the background:
The lunar rover itself was a pretty remarkable creation, jam-packed with state-of-the-art features. Each wheel was independently power by a ¼ HP electric motor. Front and back steering was available. Electric power was from two 36-volt silver-zinc-potassium hydroxide non-rechargeable batteries, each with a 121 amp-hour capacity, or 242 amp-hour total for the vehicle. Control was via a T-shaped hand controller that allowed for turning, speed adjustment, and braking. Forward-reverse was available by a toggle switch. There was navigational equipment that recorded direction, distance, and return distance to the LM. Displays showed speed, heading, pitch, power, and temperature. Cargo capacity was available for sample collection, geology hand tools, sample core drill, film cameras, film magazines and cassettes, and television cameras.
The rover TV camera could be controlled from Earth, but not a lot of people know that one feature originally planned for the rover, but never implemented, was that it could be driven from Earth as well. The idea was that once the rover was finished being used in the mission the astronauts would switch it to remote control. After the crew had departed the moon, controllers on Earth could drive the rover to places the astronauts could not visit. For example, on Apollo 15, they might have driven the rover to the bottom of Hadley Rille for a look-see, or maybe into a deep crater deemed too dangerous for manned exploration. Alas, the remote driving feature was never built. Once parked for the final time, that is where the rover stayed. The lunar rovers used on Apollos 15-17 are still there today.
The first rover excursion on EVA-1 was to Hadley Rille and the base of Mt. Hadley Delta. This was the first of several planned geologic traverses. Scott took a test drive and found the front wheel steering was inoperative. Fortunately, the wheels were locked in a straight-ahead direction, so they were able to use the rover with rear-wheel steering only. They achieved all of their objectives. Here is the famous picture of LM Pilot Irwin and the rover at the edge of Hadley Rille, taken by Commander Scott from the rim of Elbow Crater:
Slumping of the rille walls is clearly visible, as are talus blocks in the walls and at the bottom. After collecting a variety of samples, including a handsome piece of vesicular basalt that Scott spied on the way back to the LM, the astronauts returned to the landing site to set up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and other things. The Apollo 15 ALSEP, like everything else, was jam-packed with extra experiments, which yielded a rich scientific harvest beyond the earlier ALSEPs deployed. These included the usual seismometer, but also thrown in were a magnetometer, solar wind spectrometer, suprathermal ion collector, cold cathode gauge, lunar dust detector, and heat flow measurement. Experiments separate from the ALSEP included a solar wind collector and laser ranging reflectometer, which were also deployed on earlier missions.
The heat flow experiment required sensors to be placed in holes drilled down through the surface. The crew had an electric drill for this purpose, but surface drilling was to prove frustrating on several occasions during surface activities. For the heat flow sensors, the first hole drilled only reached about 1.6 meters deep, or about half of what was needed. The drill chuck was jammed from the effort required to drill through the regolith, which required use of a wrench to free it, expending precious time on the surface. The next hole only reached about one meter, when the same thing happened. Mission Control called it quits at this point since time was running short. EVA-1 lasted about six hours.
Once back in the LM, Mission Commander Scott was chagrined to find his LM pilot very much dehydrated and suffering from the expended effort on the surface. It turned out Irwins water bag had not functioned the entire time he was in his pressure suit, and had gone over seven hours with liquids. This stressed his cardiovascular system, and the flight surgeons at mission control noted several occurrences of abnormal heart rhythms. Irwin stated he felt fine, but heart problems were to plague him later in life. There is no evidence that Irwins later heart problems were a result of his Apollo 15 flight. Surgeons had noted in pre-flight testing that he was prone to slight heartbeat irregularities after exertion. This condition was later diagnosed as bigeminy, meaning the abnormal heartbeat occurs after a normal beat.
Another problem was that both men suffered from extreme pain in their hands from working all day in pressurized gloves. The fabric of the gloves pushed against the ends of the fingernails. The constant pressure eventually forced the nail to separate from the nail bed. Anyone who has accidentally torn off a fingernail or toenail knows the kind of agony this can cause. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmidt described working in the pressurized gloves as like squeezing a tennis ball repetitively for nine straight hours. Irwin used scissors to trim his nails all the way back, but Scott chose to endure the pain.
After housekeeping chores in the LM and a long rest period, EVA-2 began on August 1, 1971 at 7:49 a.m. EDT. A pleasant surprise was that they found that somehow the front-wheel steering had healed itself and was now functional. Rover driver Scott thought that the dual steering made the rover very sensitive to quick turns, so he tried front wheel-only steering. That caused the rear wheels to drift rather than track the rover direction, so he switched back to front-back steering and gradually got the feel of the vehicle in this mode.
EVA-2 took them back to Mt. Hadley Delta for more geology work, and further attempts with the stubborn drill to mount the heat flow experiment sensors. It was on this traverse that the famous Genesis Rock was found. It turned out to be anorthosite, and had an age of 4.1 billion years. For the time, this was the oldest moon rock found. An older one would be collected by Harrison Schmidt on Apollo 17, but the Apollo 15 sample was still very old, predating the meteor impact that produced the Mare Imbrium basin. While on the slopes of Mt. Hadley Delta, Dave Scott took what he calls his favorite photo of the entire mission, looking back across Hadley plain, showing the tiny LM surrounded by the barren lunar landscape. Crater Pluton is in the background beyond the LM. The image is immense in its desolation:
Returning to the LM, the crew expended further effort on the heat flow drill, having no more luck than before. It was later found the drill design was flawed, causing sections of the drill bit to separate and block the drill holes. Scott then tried to drill a core sample and got about 2 ½ meters down, which was good enough for both the core sample and implanting a heat flow sensor. But when he tried to pull the core out, it moved about 10 inches and stuck. Time was running short and controllers decided to leave the sample for the next day. EVA-2 lasted a little over seven hours.
The final EVA started on Aug. 2nd at about 5 a.m. EDT. Having another go at the stubborn core sample was the first order of business. Several tries at pulling it our failed and they were about to give up, when both men tried pulling up on the drill together and they finally freed it. They had to then break the drill stem into sections. There was a vice mounted on the Falcon MESA for this purpose but the men found it unusable because it had been installed backwards. So they had to transport it in larger pieces than planned. But it turned out to be a very valuable sample, showing a dramatic change in soil density along its length, and about 50 distinct layering effects.
The rover TV camera was also developing clutch troubles. Panning the camera up or down would cause it to drop to the full downward position, looking at the ground. Another time it got stuck looking up at the sky. Each time one of the men had to reposition it. They teased the operators about the upward-looking camera, spending too much time Earth-gazing. EVA-3 included a re-visit to Hadley Rille, with detailed pictures of the rock layering in the rille walls.
Prior to closeout of the final EVA, Scott performed the famous feather experiment, dropping a feather simultaneously with the geology hammer. In the airless environment of the moon, both hit the ground together, viewed by the rover TV camera. At the end of the EVA, the rover was parked 300 feet away from the LM to allow the TV to observe the LM liftoff. Scott placed several commemorative items at the rover, including a plaque listing the names of deceased astronauts and cosmonauts, and an aluminum figurine representing the Fallen Astronaut. He also left a small red Bible on the hand controller. EVA-3 was the shortest of all the moonwalks, just short of five hours duration.
Lunar Module Falcon left the moon on August 3rd, 1971, at 1:11 p.m. EDT, having proved its mettle with a stay on the moon of two days and 19 hours. The rover TV camera was aimed at the LM, but because of the clutch problems it was not panned to track the ascent. As the upper stage lifted off, CM Pilot Worden played a tape of the Air Force anthem, in honor of the all-Air Force crew. To those watching, the LM liftoff had a popgun-like appearance, with the ascent stage breaking free of the lower stage and climbing rapidly out of frame on an invisible exhaust plume, bits of Mylar and other debris flying off in all directions, with a miasma of lunar dust briefly visible in the scene. The quick liftoff was a result of the thrust-to-weight ratio of the ascent stage, which in the 1/6 lunar gravity was about 2.12, much higher than the Saturn V at launch, which appears very slow and ponderous at liftoff.
After rejoining Endeavour in lunar orbit, Scott and Irwin transferred everything to the CM and cast off the LM upper stage. As with earlier missions, the now-empty upper stage was deliberately crashed back onto the moon the test the seismometers still functioning there. Another day was spent in lunar orbit making various scientific observations and measurements, including release of a subsatellite left in lunar orbit, before firing the SPS for the homeward voyage.
The highlight of the return journey occurred on Mission Day 11 with CM Pilot Worden performing the first interplanetary spacewalk about 200,000 miles away from the Earth. He went outside the spacecraft and used a series of handholds to move to the SIM bay and retrieve some film canisters. He also checked some sensors that were producing anomalous readings. Looking back towards the open hatch of the CM, Worden saw the spectacular site of Irwin standing in the open hatch (he was photographing Wordens EVA and also housekeeping the umbilical hoses) framed by the lunar disk behind him as the CSM climbed away from the moon. He didnt have a camera to take a picture, but he described the scene to an artist who produced this image:
Wordens words to describe the view were: Jim, you look absolutely fantastic against that Moon back there. That is really a most unbelievable, remarkable thing. Certainly an understandable emotion. The image of Worden floating in the blackness of the void of deep space is visible in Irwin's reflective visor.
Just before re-entry, one final treat awaited the record-setting flight. They were able to view a total eclipse of the moon by the Earth. Certainly a rare treat to see the place they had just visited slowly obscured by the Earths shadow.
The flight of Apollo 15 ended on August 7th, 1971 at 4:46 p.m. EDT, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean recovery zone. One brief moment of anxiety occurred when one of the three parachutes collapsed during descent. But the landing would be safe with two good parachutes. Here is a picture of the descent with the failed parachute streaming side the others:
For the first time, the crew would not have to wear bio-isolation garments, the earlier Apollo flights having shown no living organisms being present in the lunar samples. As he climbed out of the spacecraft into the life raft floating alongside, Irwin dipped his hand into the cool Pacific water and doused his face with it. He later stated that the sensation of coming from the lifeless dust of Hadley to the warm, wet, life-giving ocean waters was the most satisfying moment of the mission.
The scientific legacy of Apollo 15 lives on today. Almost all of the objectives of the incredibly ambitious and complex flight plan were achieved. About 170 pounds of lunar samples were returned. Analysis revealed the complex history of the Hadley Apennine region, and dated the Imbrium impact as occurring sometime between 3.84 to 3.87 billion years ago. This event pushed up the lunar Apennine Mountains and flooded vast areas of the moons surface with molten rock and debris. The Apollo 15 samples included a rich variety of rocks, such as breccias, basalts, and anorthosite. It is difficult to imagine such a bountiful harvest of geologic specimens being collected without the manned presence.
In spite of all the wonderful things achieved by the Apollo 15 mission, it is unfortunate that one lasting memory is the post-flight controversy involving souvenir stamps carried by the crew to the lunar surface. Prior to the flight, NASA had authorized the crew to take 243 first-day covers on the journey, but they also took another 398 unauthorized covers. Their plan was to keep 298 of the unauthorized as personal mementos, and sell 100 to a stamp dealer for sale to collectors. The crew would share in the profits of the sale, which they would use to establish trusts for the education of their children. This was not illegal and NASA policy did not forbid the taking of souvenirs aboard spacecraft, and others had done so on previous flights (Gus Grissom took a few dozen Mercury Dimes aboard Liberty Bell 7, which were recovered when the sunken craft was raised almost 40 years after it was lost). But the stamps were considered unauthorized and proven an embarrassment when Congress got involved during a period of budget cutting that resulted in the loss of three planned Apollo missions. When NASA learned of the unauthorized stamps, they confiscated the 298 kept by the crewmen. Political pressures led NASA management to make an example, which resulted in their removal as backup for Apollo 17, and none of the Apollo 15 crew flew in space again.
The men of Apollo 15 comprised what was perhaps the most remarkable of all the flight crews selected for spaceflight. Mission Commander David Randolph Scott was thought by many to be the most charismatic and photogenic of all of the Apollo astronauts. The dark-haired, handsome and youthful-looking Scott is a native of San Antonio and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He earned an M.S. in astronautics from MIT and was an Air Force fighter and test pilot. He joined NASA in 1963 and was a veteran of the historic Gemini 8 mission in 1966, when he and later First Man Neil Armstrong achieved the first docking in space of two spacecraft. He and Armstrong successfully dealt with an in-flight emergency on Gemini 8 and eventually made an emergency landing of their ship, saving their ship and themselves from a potentially life-threatening situation. Dave Scott was also on another historic mission, Apollo 9, which was the first manned test flight of the lunar module. He was Command Module Pilot on that mission, keeping station while Mission Commander Jim McDivitt and LM Pilot Rusty Schweickart flew the LM over 100 miles away in Earth orbit, eventually re-joining Scott and the CSM to demonstrate the LM capabilities. He served as backup Commander for Apollo 12, and was subsequently assigned as Commander for Apollo 15, which was his final space mission and a fitting crown to a remarkable career in space exploration. After the postage stamp incident, Scott was assigned to a position in the Manned Spacecraft Center, and eventually became Director of the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB. Scott retired from NASA in 1977. At that time he also retired from his Air Force career as a full Colonel. He lives today in Los Angeles, retired after working as an executive for Morgan Stanley.
No. 2 man on the Apollo 15 crew was Command Module Pilot Alfred Merrill Worden. Al Worden is a native of Jackson, Michigan, and was another graduate of West Point who decided to pursue and Air Force career. He earned an M.S. in Astronautic Engineering from the University of Michigan. He attained the rank of full Colonel, and served as a test pilot and also a fighter pilot based at Andrews AFB. Col. Worden was selected by NASA in 1966 and served as backup CM for Apollo 12, which earned him his seat on Apollo 15. He was assigned to the NASA Ames Research Center and later was Chief of the Systems Study Division at Ames. Col. Worden retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1975, and worked in private business, becoming President of Maris-Worden Aerospace, Inc., and later Staff Vice-President of BG Goodrich Aerospace, Brecksville, Ohio. He retired from business in 1996. Mr. Worden also worked with crewman Jim Irwins High Flight Foundation, and was Chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which provides scholarships to exceptional students of science and engineering.
Lunar Module Pilot James Benson Irwin could rightly be called NASAs model of persistence. A native of Pittsburgh, Irwin was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, but opted for a commission in the Air Force, where he ultimately attained the rank of Colonel. He applied to but was turned down for test pilot training. He tried again a few years later and was accepted into the Air Force Test Pilot School. During his career as a test pilot, Col. Irwin was involved in a serious crash during a training flight. Both he and his co-pilot survived, but Irwin suffered compound fractures which nearly caused him to lose a leg, and also experienced temporary amnesia, which required extensive therapy which resulted in his regaining his memory. He earned a Masters Degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan. He first applied to the astronaut corps in 1964 but was not selected. He tried again and was turned down again, until finally making the group called up in 1966. When selected for the Apollo 15 crew, fellow astronauts often said that Jim Irwin was the one man who could fly to the moon with Dave Scott, because he seemed to accept with good cheer his Commanders somewhat authoritarian style. After Apollo 15, Col. Irwin resigned from NASA and the Air Force in 1972. As a result of his Apollo 15 experience, he became a deeply spiritual man, forming the High Flight Foundation, an evangelical Christian outreach organization based in Colorado Springs. Irwin spoke often at religious gatherings (yours truly attended one and met him in person), where he was always mobbed by admirers and well-wishers. He led several expeditions to Mount Ararat to investigate rumors of the sighting of the remains of Noahs Ark, but this was one discovery that eluded him. He reached the summit of Ararat once, but on that expedition he was seriously injured in a fall and had to be evacuated by horseback from the mountain. The heart irregularities noted on Apollo 15 and earlier finally caught up with Col. Irwin when he suffered a series of heart attacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He died on August 8, 1991 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, 20 years and a day after his return to Earth on Apollo 15, the first of the 12 men who have walked the surface of the moon to make that Greater Journey. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with the standard military-issue gravestone marking the final resting place of this remarkable but little-known man:
The James Irwin Charter Schools in Colorado Springs are named in honor of the modest and unassuming Jim Irwin.
Historians will likely note the Apollo 15 mission as the beginning of scientific manned exploration of other planets. So take some time this month to reflect on and remember that historic spaceflight.
True heroes are human beings that sacrifice themselves for a greater purpose other than their own pursuits of ease and comfort.
Thanks for posting!
The Apollo era will be looked back upon as the high point of the American experiment.
Thanks for posting
Great read. Thanks.
AF history ping.
Thanks for the ping!
Great post - thank you.
Great reading! Thanks for the ping.
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