April 8, 2020

Review: Falling to Earth by Al Worden and Francis French.

Out from Smithsonian Press!

We’re approaching 40 years since the last human set foot on the Moon, and we’ve yet to have the ability to point at a calendar and state unequivocally when such a feat may happen again. Thus, the era is dwindling when we can hear the stories of these early astronauts, in their own words. This week’s review entitled Falling to Earth tells the tale of NASA astronaut Al Worden, the Command Module pilot for Apollo 15. Out earlier this year from Smithsonian Books,  Falling to Earth follows Mr. Worden’s early years growing up in rural Minnesota through his times as a military aviator and journey to Earth’s satellite to the eventual fallout and scandal of the infamous postage covers told from his own perspective.

NASA artist’s conception of the Apollo 15 EVA.

Even if you’ve been an ardent fan of the space program and a long-time NASA history buff, I’ll bet Mr. Worden has a tale or three that you’ve never heard before. Although the Command Module pilot never set foot on the lunar surface, he had an enviable position to conduct science from lunar orbit. Apollo 15 was the most ambitious science mission to the Moon to date, and the service module of the Endeavour also carried a battery of scientific instruments as well. Al Worden also attempted to photograph the Gegenschein from lunar orbit, and accurately plotted their return to Earth via the low-tech “eyeball-sextant method” proving that astronauts could plot a return trjectory without the help of Mission Control in the event of an emergency. To this end, he was given the unofficial “Vasco de Gamma Navigation Award” by NASA and his crew mates. Mr. Worden was also the 1st astronaut to perform an EVA beyond low Earth orbit to retrieve the film (remember film?) canisters from the science bay, and holds the current distance record to so. It must’ve been an amazing sight, being one of the few humans in history to be able to see the Moon over one shoulder and the Earth over another… amazingly, planners didn’t see it fit to equip the spacewalkers with a camera!

As far as the stamp cover controversy goes, Mr. Worden simply notes that they were guilty of nothing more than “poor judgment…” and has long since made amends with NASA. Astronauts before and since have parleyed their fame into fortune, and the whole scandal may seem curious to some in a modern era of cooperate sponsorship and cross-promotion. But the legacy of the science speaks for itself; 40 years later, we’re still learning things from the science and samples brought back from the Moon. Falling to Earth and such documentaries as In the Shadow of the Moon and even the docu-drama From Earth to the Moon bring the stories of these astronauts and the early space program to light in their own words while they’re still around to tell them. Do search out Falling to Earth for a look at a bygone era when man not only dared to go to the Moon, but actually made it look easy and routine!



  1. [...] first only noticed by Apollo 15 astronauts in 1971. If that mission sounds familiar, it’s because Al Worden performed repeated orbital passes over the area while his crewmates were exploring Hadley Rille, [...]

  2. [...] Apollo 15 astronauts got in some hot water over a publicity scheme. The idea that stamp collector and dealer Hermann Sieger approached the astronauts with was simple: 400 commemorative postage stamp covers would be postmarked at point of departure from the Kennedy Space Center and again at the return point of arrival aboard the USS Okinawa after their circuitous journey via the Moon. NASA was less than happy with the whole affair, and Command Module Pilot Al Worden recounts the aftermath in his book, Falling to Earth. [...]

  3. [...] Worden recounts performing the “most distant EVA ever” on the return from the Moon in his book Falling to Earth. This record will still stand until the proposed asteroid retrieval mission in the coming decade, [...]

  4. [...] Worden recounts performing the “most distant EVA ever” on the return from the Moon in his book Falling to Earth. This record will still stand until the proposed asteroid retrieval mission in the coming decade, [...]

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