Glenstal Students Meet Al Wordon of Apollo 15

Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden

Edmond Aylward

On the 16th September, Br Denis brought myself, William McAleese and Ben O’Sullivan to the Limerick Institute of Technology for a talk which was given by the Apollo-15 CMP (Command Module Pilot) in Limerick Institute of Technology. His name is Al Worden, and at the age of 82 he was able to give a very interesting and well engaged talk. Al Worden, was accompanied by David Scott the Commander, and Lunar Module Pilot, James Irwin. Apollo 15 was the ninth manned mission in the United States’ Apollo program, the fourth to land on the Moon.

When we arrived at LIT we were able to get a picture with Al Worden. The picture was taken in front of a green screen so that the moon could be added into the background afterwards. We laughed when we saw the first picture because William was wearing a green jumper and the lunar effect was cast over his green jumper and his torso was invisible! After retaking the picture with Al, we gave in our tickets and walked to the lecture hall. We took our seats in the mid-front with a good view. The audience was comprised of people who were interested in NASA, Apollo, and Space programmes in general, which led to great questions at the end of the talk.

The talk was opened by a man who had met Al Worden once before and was greatly impressed by his mission. This led him to want to teach others of Al’s mission. He had organised this talk and entered with the introduction of the sponsors and the layout of the talk. Dr Norah Patten then introduced herself and told us that she wanted to be the first Irish Astronaut. She told us how she had been dreaming of being an astronaut since her childhood and how she wanted to share her dream among other Irish students so that one day they too might get an opportunity to visit space. She told us of her project with secondary schools around Ireland, in collaboration with NanoRacks, which will see the first Irish Secondary School experiment – designed by St. Nessans College in Limerick, launched to the International Space Station later this year. The experiment will investigate the strength of cement when being mixed in space. This will be a very important experiment and the findings can be used if we want to build on the moon or mars.

After her very interesting talk she made way for Al Worden who started to tell us about his life, his parents and his service in the American Air Force. He continued with his time in training and his endless hours in simulation, spending 80 hours a week for the two years leading up to Apollo 15’s mission. Al showed us a secret number of Roman Numerals –XV – which can be seen on the Apollo logo which the crew themselves designed. The CIA had refused them permission to put it in the logo. But the crew heavily disguised  XV in the logo and you can see it in craters of the moon. Take a close look at the logo and you will see it.

Al also told us about his two his crew members, David Scott and James Irwin and told us of his calm experience of exiting the atmosphere of earth which was different from the other Apollo missions because it was the heaviest yet, carrying the first moon rover and science lab module on board. He gave us the most shocking fact about the mission, how the computing system was the same as the calculator app on the iPhone, and how it had only 76 KB of memory on board which was not enough for all of the automatic codes. They had to leave out the programme “return to earth” which left our hero Al Worden to manually fly the craft home with a sextant, a navigation device used by mariners since the 1400’s.

Al told us the mission took twelve days and he amused us with his stories of life aboard craft and living with each other. His description of how they went to the toilet was hilarious.

Once they arrived in Lunar orbit Al was to stay on the craft for three days orbiting the moon while the other two astronauts collected rocks down below. He said that the best part of the mission was being on his own for a couple of days away from the other two astronauts. He is in the Guinness Book of Records for being “The Lonliest Man in the Universe” when he was orbiting around the far side of the moon.

On their return to earch at the end of the Apollo 15 mission only two of the three parachutes deployed. But the two held and they landed safely in the Pacific Ocean where Navy Seals brought them back to and Aircraft Carrier. Al said this was the most dangerous part of their mission.

Everyone enjoyed the talk and at the end some people asked Al questions. One was “Is there any way of continuing the Apollo or programs in the future?” He answered “elect a new President” which made everyone laugh.

   All four of us were very lucky to see an Apollo astronaut and enjoyed every second of his talk. The organiser shared with us the likelihood of an Irish person meeting an astronautApollo who had been to the moon – (0.000000000002%       chance).

   It was a once in a life experience,