February 07 – Al Worden

Today is the 87th birthday of Alfred (Al) Worden, a member of one of humankind’s most exclusive clubs.  You can probably tell which club I’m talking about by glancing at the photograph.  Worden was born in Jackson, Michigan in 1932, and after graduating from the US Military Academy in 1955 he spent some time as an instructor, pilot and armaments officer with the USAF, and even spent some time at Farnborough, England (quick – find a Union Jack to wave!) before being selected by NASA as an astronaut in 1966.  He was part of the support crew for Apollo 9, and back-up pilot for Apollo 12, before hitting the big time with Apollo 15.

Alfred Merrill Worden (image: NASA)
Alfred Merrill Worden (image: NASA)

Worden served as command module pilot on that particular mission, the fourth manned lunar landing.  He spent 295 hours and 11 minutes in space, of which 38 minutes were spent outside the command module, retrieving film cassettes and generally making sure everything was still there.   He holds the record for once being “the most isolated human being” (he was 2,234 miles 1,330 yards from his companions while they were on the surface).

You can read more about what Al is up to these days on his website,  www.alworden.com.

Happy Birthday Al.

It’s a litle worrying that of the 24 astronauts who flew to the Moon as part of the Apollo program, only 12 survive, and the youngest of those, Ken Mattingly, is 83. If we don’t get our collective act together soon, there will be no humans alive who have visited our nearest neighbour.


1824  ⇒  Birth of English astronomer William Huggins, spectroscopy pioneer. Huggins was the first person to distinguish between nebulae and galaxies (their spectra are different).

1878  ⇒  Asteroid 182 Elsa discovered by Johann Palisa, and probably named after the daughter of the Duke of Brabant, a character from the German Arthurian legend of Lohengrin. Elsa (the asteroid) is an S-type of uncertain diameter. Analysis of variations in the amount of light reflected towards us from her surface shows a fairly slow rotation (a little over 80 hours) and indicates an elongated shape.

1896  ⇒  Asteroid 415 Palatia discovered by Max Wolf. It is around 76 km in diameter and is unusually named after the “Electorate of the Palatinate”, a fragmented territory of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany.

1977    Launch of the Soyuz 24 mission to the Salyut 5 Space Station. The crew of Commander Viktor Gorbatko and Flight Engineer Yuri Glazkov spent eighteen days in space, reactivating the station after a problem with toxic fumes had caused the previous crew to leave in a hurry . Both cosmonauts were awarded “Hero of the Soviet Union” and the “Order of Lenin”. Gorbatko later went on to become a science fiction author.