I am retired NASA astronaut, Al Worden. Ask me anything about being an Apollo astronaut.
Hi, I’m Al Worden, a retired NASA Astronaut. Ask me anything. I’m here at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex exploring the moon all over again at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. I served as the command module pilot for the fourth manned lunar landing mission and the first to visit and explore the moon’s Hadley Rille and Apennene Mountains on the southeast edge of Mare Imbrium. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, seeing the astrovan, and lunar landing module here at the visitor complex is bringing back some amazing memories.
I’m also a poet, having published three books inspired by my space travel.
I’ll be taking your questions starting at about 1:45 p.m. EST.
Proof it's me: https://twitter.com/ExploreSpaceKSC/status/1075445089994973185
Edit (2:15 p.m.): I'm signing off for now! Thanks for all of your wonderful questions. I'll be back tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. EST to answer a few additional questions!
Update (10 a.m.): I'm back online!
Edit (10:40 a.m.): I'm signing off again -- it has been a pleasure speaking with all of you. Thank you and I hope to see you at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex soon.
- My personal opinion is that we do not have private companies launching into space. SpaceX and Boeing both get their funding from the government much the same as Northrop Grumman did during the Apollo program. The only true civilian program right now is Blue Origin because it is being funded entirely by Jeff Bezos. All others rely on the government to pay them.
- I think the commercial competition will eventually evolve into the point where space tourism will be available for more people. Although, it will still be expensive.
- My inspiration for the poetry was the flight of Apollo 15, being in space and around the Moon, seeing the reaction on Earth to what we saw. Some of my poetry has to do with what we experienced after the flight.
What's the number 1 thing movies get wrong about space travel?
That's a great question! The motions in space are not done very well in a movie. The only movie I know that had it right was Apollo 13 which was filmed from a zero-G airplane. Movies that show astronauts going from one place to another holding only a fire extinguisher are absolutely ridiculous!
What was going through your head as you sat in the apollo capsule for the first time, Waiting for the engines to start?
Prior to launch -- not much. As a matter of fact, I got about an hour of sleep waiting for the launch! So I was only awake about 15 minutes prior to launch so I could check all the engines and go!
Hey, Mr. Worden! I’m a STEM teacher at a middle school in Georgia. I focus all of my lessons around NASA and the space program in general. What were your middle school years like, and if you had any advice for students today, what would it be?
Interesting question! I was in a one-room country school until I finished the seventh grade -- I loved it. It was a wonderful place to be. There were two in my class and 32 in the entire school! The amazing part was that I learned more than when I was in a class full of student my age. For students today, I would tell them to study anything they would like. Do what you want to do and do what makes you happy. When you are happy, you will do much better than working on something you don't enjoy.
My advice is to study what you are passionate about. Don't worry about going after what you think is needed for your future.
No, I never saw anything unusual. To be honest, I never knew anyone who did.
What’s your advice for young people who want to become astronauts? I’m an aerospace engineering student, who one day dreams of going to space. Do you think space will become more accessible? Will the demand for astronauts increase dramatically in the next 20 years?
I think there will be an increased demand for engineers, technicians and scientists in the space program. I don't think there will be a huge increase for astronauts, however. I don't believe we will send fleets off at any one time.
What is your most memorable moment in space?
The best memory I have was when I did my EVA -- I got the chance to look at both the Moon and the Earth at the same time.
Hello, Mr. Worden.
I've been to KSC multiple times, ultimately getting an annual pass! I love the Center and always look forward to seeing and learning new things when I visit.
Many people dismiss space travel with arguments along the lines of "why should we spend so much money in space when we still have problems here on Earth?"
In your opinion, what would be the greatest scientific/research benefit of resuming human-manned missions to the moon?
I can think of two really important things that could be done at the moment. The first is that we put a crew on the Moon to live long term so that we can understand what it will take to live in that kind of hostile environment. The second is that the backside of the Moon is a perfect place to put a large radio telescope. This would have no interference from the atmosphere, solar or anything from Earth. It would be a clear view into the universe. If we did that, maybe we would find that there is somebody out there!
What’s the best approach to earning employment at NASA?
My girlfriend is studying astrophysics at Texas Tech University, she’s extremely interested in a position, however she doesn’t know where to start or what to apply for.
My opinion is that it doesn't matter what you study. Becoming an astronaut is something that will require you to have outstanding academic work and good physical condition. The only thing you can do is apply to NASA's astronaut selection program. There's is no magic bullet to becoming an astronaut. It is also slim -- the last group only had 12 people selected -- out of 18,000 applicants!
When do you think we will establish permanent residency somewhere other than earth?
What I would like to answer is -- will we be required to establish residence somewhere else? The answer to that is definitely yes. The lifetime for humankind is limited. When the sun burns out, we will have to go somewhere else.
What’s the strangest thing you encountered during your NASA time?
I think I lived a sheltered life -- I didn't see anything strange!
What are some areas of the early space program that you feel have been overlooked by historians and documentaries/films? I'm thinking of things like the 'calculators' detailed in Hidden Figures, which I had never heard about before the book and film, but who were absolutely key to NASA's success.
Second question: what, if anything, do you think it would take to get the level of public and governmental support for NASA that it enjoyed in the Sixties?
Good question! I don't think we overlooked anything. As a matter of fact, I think we went overboard. We overlooked everything 20 or more times. I think we covered all of our bases and I think it was done very well.
What inspired you to be an astronaut? What advice would you give to those who are interested in the field?
I was actually not inspired to be an astronaut! I took my own advice, and did something I love which was flying airplanes and being a test pilot. However, because I was a test pilot, I was suitable for the space program. I also had the academic credentials to become an astronaut. Pursue what you love, and do it really, really well. You'll find that other doors will open for you. With a good academic background, you will get where you want to be.
I never expected to become an astronaut, but I knew I was going to be the best test pilot that I could be.
what's your favorite space food?
By the way, Tang is the worst thing ever invented. Haha!
Having worked on the Apollo project and been an astronaut, how do you feel about the nonsensical "the moon landing was faked" conspiracy? Do you just find it to be a minor annoyance, completely aggravating, funny, sad, etc?
I find the Moon conspiracies to be a big laugh. I think it's one of the funniest things going on today that there is a group of people that cannot accept the fact that we landed on the Moon. I think the proof can be found in the fact that 400,00 worked on the Apollo program. It would be impossible to pay off that many people to lie!
I teach 3rd grade science and my class is studying space right now. What’s something you think 9 year olds should know about space or space exploration? I’ll be sure to pass it on!
What I think they would be interested in is the fact that humans have a thirst for knowledge -- part of that is with the thirst to know what is out there. When they realize that space will ultimately will be used for our own survival, then they will be asking more questions.
What were some hobbies you picked up while in space to keep yourself busy?
The truth is that when I made my flight, we were so busy that we never had any free time!
First off, Thank you. You are a national treasure as far as I am concerned.
Do you have any book or documentary recommendations regarding the period of time that you were active in the space program?
You can read all three of my books, for starters! Plus there are plenty of interesting books on the history of NASA.
How did it feel to be exploring something humans had never touched?
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to extend our ability to explore other planets. It was a fantastic flight -- we did great science on the flight and we found out a lot about the moon. It was an honor to represent the United States in that endeavor.
What’s your favorite poem you’ve written about your space travels?
It is a poem called Oceans.
What’s the first thing you remember spotting on Earth that you recognized when you got into space?
I would say the most recognizable thing from space is probably Africa. There usually isn't a lot of cloud coverage there!
If there were any, what was the best practical joke on any of your missions? Any pranks in space?
Hmmm... I would have to say that the best one I saw was the joke we pulled on Pete Conrad, the commander on Apollo 12. When Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, he said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." We wrote several statements for Pete, including the one "It may have been one small step for Neil, but it was a large step for me."
What was the most tense or stressful part of your time in space? And what was the most relaxing?
I couldn't tell you what was the most stressful, as I didn't feel too much stress throughout the flight. The most relaxing was when we were sleeping! I was able to look out the window and enjoy my time.
When is the last time you flew an aircraft?
It was about ten years ago! Basically, I quit flying since I retired from the Air Force. I have flown airplanes since then, however -- I still have my pilots license!
If you could go back to 1 moment in time, in your career/life, where would you go?
I would probably do to my solo orbit around the Moon again. It was the most interesting thing I've ever done and the most interesting place I've ever been. I saw the universe in an entirely different way and began to realize that we know so little about the universe out there.
As you look back at your career, do you feel complete & utter fullfillment / enlightenment with how you have spent your time on earth?
Are there any regrets you care to share? I imagine you feel pretty satisified looking back at your own life. I hope to feel that way when I am older (now 28)
I don't feel like I ever finished what I wanted to do in this life. I think that taking the flight to the Moon was a great thing to do. However, I'm more interested in intellectual discoveries than in doing a skilled job of flying to the moon. It didn't require a lot of thinking, it just required that we had the skills necessary to get there and back.
What was your first thoughts being in space and seeing earth?
Would you ever want to go back to space?
I would love to go back to space! It's a great place to be. It's very comfortable -- even in the spacecraft! After a while, you get the feeling that this is our natural habitat. It's almost as if our genetic makeup was made for this!
How confortable is sleeping without gravity?
The first night out was very uncomfortable because you can't stabilize your head. When it starts to move, you wake up. It took me a while to go to sleep. The second night was a little easier and the third night I could go to sleep without any restraints.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
They are both good! I use Star Trek in a lot of talks that I give because I like to make people aware that science fiction eventually becomes science fact. The prime example I can think of is the communicator and now we have cell phones! We can't transport ourselves somewhere, but we can communicate with our cell phones. I truly enjoy these shows as they show us what can happen in the future.
What is it like, looking out upon the vastness of the black void, with all those little lights as far as you can see? How humbling is it looking back at the planet?
You realize that this thing we call Earth is a finite object. It's interesting -- if we are standing here on the ground, we see the horizon as a straight line. If we get in an airplane and go to 40,000 ft, we begin to see a slight curvature of the Earth. If we go into orbit, we can see clearly the curvature of the Earth. If we go to the moon, we can see the whole Earth -- and it's pretty small. It's finite, it's our home and we should do a better job at taking care of it.
Who is the most memorable astronaut you know and why?
There are several that I have known. One, of course, being Neil Armstrong -- he was a very good friend and a true gentleman. He did not market or sell himself to anyone. He was quiet, slightly withdrawn but not unfriendly or aloof. Dick Gordon -- I was his back up on Apollo 12 so we trained together. He became like a brother to me. We were very close up until the time he passed away. He was my best friend in the space program.
What was the scariest situation you were in in space?
There was nothing scary that I experienced while I was in space! This is due to the very complete and superb training program I went through.
What were your most and least favorite things to eat when you were in space?
Spaghetti is my favorite. Tang was the worst!
Did you see aliens or know someone who's seen proof of alien life?
I never saw anything out of the ordinary, nor did I know anyone who did.
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