On the 26th of July 1971, three men made history travelling to space on the Apollo 15 lunar mission. Those men were mission commander David Scott, Al Worden and experienced lunar module pilot James Irwin.
On the 16th September 2014, history was made yet again, this time in Limerick as 350 people had the honour of welcoming Apollo 15 pilot Al Worden to the Millennium theatre in L.I.T. For many people it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Given that only 24 people have ever been to space, meeting Al is like winning the Lotto twice over! Yes, twice.
Mr. Worden regaled the audience with fascinating tales from his time in space, taking us on the journey with him from the pre mission preparation, the journey itself and the ‘coming home’.
Apollo 15 was unprecedented for a number of reasons. It was the largest payload to have ever been launched by NASA which made it’s initial take-off very slow with no shuttering or large ‘G’ force.
”We didn’t even know we’d left the ground until mission control informed us”, Al joked during the 90 minute lecture. This was a feat of engineering like no other.
Apollo 15 carried the first lunar roving vehicle which was like a little motor car that enabled Irwin and Scott to explore vast expanses of the moon and carry lunar rocks back for geological research. One such rock they discovered was the ‘Genesis rock’ which is thought to have been formed some 4 billion years ago pre-dating the solar system itself.
It also carried additional equipment for taking measurements while orbiting the moon such as a mass spectrometer, which using a spectrum of the light analysed the rocks on the lunar landscape from the spacecraft itself.
Apollo 15 stayed in orbit around the moon for three days during which Al was completely cut of from all of mankind. The ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ made famous by the Pink Floyd record, literally blocked all radio signals from mission control on earth and when you’re on the dark side of the moon and all you can see is the vacuum of space and stars, no black is like space black.
It is because of this that Mr.. Worden won a place in the Guinness book of records as ‘the most isolated man on earth’. An accolade worth acknowledging.
”It is the most awesome thing one can see, watching the the earth rise, it changes your perspective on life, on earth forever”, Al explained. He sat watching the little blue dot lost in a sea of blackness for three days thinking of home, taking pictures to commemorate the breathtaking sight.
Al continued to regale with stories concerning everyday perfunctory matters, such as how the three astronauts slept, ate and used ‘the facilities’. One such story was about some rogue tomato soup. He laughed as he explained how they ate on board the spacecraft.
”You have a hot/cold water gun that you squirt into the packet, one, two, three, four, then you gently tear it open, well this time I tore it a little too hard and this ball of tomato soup comes out and floats around the room, we all look at the tomato soup thinking what do we do? We know if we touch it we’ll break the surface tension then it will break into lots of tiny balls of tomato soup and if one of those lands on the control panel we’re in trouble, so you know how we solved it? We wrapped it in a towel and absorbed it! Something no A.I would think to do”. The audience laughed in appreciation of this telling little anecdote.
Al Worden manually flew the Apollo 15 spacecraft home putting his simulator training to good use. After Spending 70 hours a week in a flight simulator for three years preparing for the mission Al was ready for any fault situations that could occur.
” Because of the limited technology available at the time, 75k of memory storage was all we had, mission command had to choose one programme to omit, the one they chose was a programme called ‘RETURN TO HOME!” Al explained laughing. Meaning that Al’s ability to fly Apollo 15 home manually was paramount to a safe return.
After they broke the atmosphere returning home, Al joked that ‘the most dangerous part of the journey was being rescued by the navy’, alluding to some rivalry between the air force and the navy but he conceded they had retrieved the trio from the ocean and brought them home safely.
After spending two weeks in space the astronauts had to relearn basic functions, such as how to walk or climb down the stairs, judge the distance of things away from them and so on.
Audience member Sandra Healy commented at the end of lecture saying,” It was amazing to hear first hand astronauts experience on Apollo missions brought to life in a very engaging and humorous manner.”
Lit who graciously hosted the event, has it’s own links with space and space research. It designed one of only eight experiments worldwide to be sent on the last flight to the international space station.(I.S.S) The institute is working on the forefront of modern science to create sustainable plant life for the astronauts in space.