Francis French Helps Al Worden Tell an Important Story
I’ve read a fair number of astronaut books, and they’re all pretty good. Why? Because they’re written by astronauts, and astronauts get to write about GOING INTO SPACE, which just about everyone agrees is extremely cool. But Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut’s Journey to the Moon (2011), by the late Al Worden and Francis French, is a bit different than the average astronaut bio, because Worden’s trip to the heavens is not really the most important part of the story.
What’s really interesting is what happened AFTER he went into space. Worden and his fellow Apollo 15 astronauts, Dave Scott and Jim Irwin, became celebrities for their trip to the moon and back. It was a sterling mission by an all-Air Force crew, rare in those days of Navy dominance of the space program, and featured not only extended tours of the lunar landscape by Scott and Irwin in the dune buggy-like lunar rover but also a deep-space EVA by command module pilot Worden. This was great: Astronauting 101. But a funny thing happened on the way to immortality. Worden, Scott, and Irwin were subsequently implicated in a “scandal” that seems tame today but that was major news at the time — one in which they were accused of bringing postal covers with them into space and then selling the covers for personal profit.
I won’t go into the details of the story, which are covered in the book, but suffice it to say Worden became something of a pariah at NASA for many years. The tale of how he redeemed himself and revived his Apollo legacy is really the heart of this story, and makes for the most compelling section of the book. Well written, with lots of inside-NASA information for space nuts, Falling to Earth is an absorbing, ultimately uplifting read about a man whom government bureaucrats tried for several years to make us forget. There’s no chance of that now. With help from Francis French, Al Worden has gently but convincingly reclaimed his place in space history.