Apollo 15’s Al Worden on Space and Scandal

The astronaut talks about his lunar mission, the scandal that followed and the future of space missions

Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden discusses his new book and the scandal that surrounded him after he returned to earth in 1971. (Eric Long / NASM, SI)
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You grew up on a farm in rural Michigan. What motivated you to become an astronaut?
I won’t say that I was really motivated to be an astronaut when I was young. In fact, I was the only one working the farm from the time I was 12 until I went off to college. And the one thing I decided from all that—especially here in Michigan, which is pretty hardscrabble farming—was that I was going to do anything I could so that I didn’t end up living the rest of my life on a farm. So that kind of motivated me to go to school, and of course I went to West Point, which is a military school, and from there I went into the Air Force and followed a normal career path. Never really thought about the space program until I had graduated from the graduate school at Michigan back in 1964, and I was assigned to a test pilot school in England, and that’s when I first started thinking about being an astronaut. I was following my own professional line, to be the best pilot and best test pilot I could be. And if the space program ended up being something I could be involved in then that would be fine, but otherwise I was very happy doing what I was doing. They did have an application process and I was able to apply and I did get in, but I can’t say it was a driving force in my life.

Astronauts are heroes for many people. Who are your heroes?
My grandfather would be first, because he taught me responsibility and a work ethic. Then there was my high school principal, who got me through school and into college without costing my family any money. Later in life, it was Michael Collins, who was the command module pilot on Apollo 11. Mike was the most professional, nicest, most competent guy that I’ve ever worked with. It was amazing to me that he could have gone from being an astronaut to being appointed the first director of the new Air and Space Museum in 1971.

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