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Book Reviews


Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut’s Journey to Earth
Authors: Al Worden with Francis French

Publisher: Smithsonian Books

ISBN: 978-1-5883-4309-3

Price: £ 21.99 (Hb) 312pp


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Falling to Earth is Al Worden's autobiography, written with space historian Francis French. Worden has published the story of his mission as Apollo 15’s command module pilot and its immediate aftermath of what came to be known as the ‘covers incident’ as the centrepiece. With a foreword by Dick Gordon, an epilogue by Tom Stafford and further praise on the back cover from Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn, Worden has finally received the personal redemption from those that he considers matter most – his fellow astronauts.  

Worden describes how Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott arranged a deal with a German businessman for the whole crew. They would fly 100 postal covers to the Moon and back for him to sell privately and discreetly after the Apollo programme was over or they left NASA. In return he would set up a trust account of 7,000 dollars in a German Bank for each astronaut to use for their children’s education. Within months after the flight it all went wrong. The covers were on the open market with Deke Slayton, NASA”s director of flight crew operations, receiving queries about their authenticity from potential buyers.

Relegated to a desk job following this revelation, Worden describes the humiliating and painful events that followed. He felt ostracised from NASA and in his darker moments was left wondering if life was “still worth living”. His crewmate Jim Irwin retired and stepped out of the picture, his commander Dave Scott, despite having initiated the business deal, avoided any public castigation. Throughout the book, Worden charts Scott’s culpability in the incident whilst repeatedly emphasising his exemplary command integral to the outstanding success of their mission.

Like any good wine, Worden's story benefits from the long interval, offering a deeper insight into the human element of human spaceflight. Written in a slick punchy style it is entertaining and remarkably informative equally for those who remember the Apollo era and those unfortunate to have been born after it was over.

Gurbir Singh

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