49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2011
OK, think about what you're doing right now at this very moment, reading this sentence and being aware of your immediate surroundings. Now, think about when Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden took the first walk ever in deep space 40 years ago and became the first human in history to see both the entire Earth and the Moon simply by turning his head. Feel any different? I know I do!
But that's only one of the "oh my gosh!" moments in "Falling To Earth", and there are many. But perhaps most important is the opportunity to understand an Apollo lunar mission from the perspective of the CMP (Command Module Pilot); the one crew member who stayed aboard and minded the spacecraft while his other two crewmates roamed the lunar surface. Many times overlooked and taken for granted by the moon walking component of the mission, Apollo 15's CMP Al Worden had a very full plate of science experiments to conduct and on-board system instruments to constantly monitor. Space is not a very forgiving place when mistakes occur. Without this critical crewmember consistently performing at his peak, and flying solo for much of the mission, there is no way the full crew would have had a chance of ever returning safely to Earth.
The book has a very nice conversational tone which, to me, is very appealing. The tone is set from the first chapter so that the reader immediately feels as if they're actually being "told" the story from Worden himself. I find this to be very refreshing, practically an honor, as if I'm sitting in Worden's company, while he tells his story.
In addition to the chronology of his various career moves, the book gives the reader a solid sense of how Worden thinks. I consistently found honest, fair and candid assessments, even in areas where Worden considers his career challenges, and as a husband and a father. There is no glossing over these or any other sensitive areas in his life. Instead, he embraces these things with both honesty and humbleness (see "courage"!). It's clear the man has done a lot of soul-searching before writing his story.
From a technical point of view, I particularly enjoyed reading about the Apollo Command Module, which is presented in a most interesting way and without getting lost in cumbersome details. There are some very nice explanations regarding things like the off-center design of the Apollo CM, using the heat shield for lift and firing the thrusters to stay centered in the re-entry corridor. I'm always amazed at how many die-hard Apollo enthusiasts still don't realize that the CM was actually piloted into and through the re-entry back to Earth.
Finally, I really can't say enough about the writing style. I think co-author Francis French has worked a miracle with this book. I'm telling you, I can actually hear Al Worden's voice speaking every word as I read along! Fantastic!
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2011
Al Worden has some things to get off of his chest. And he's been waiting almost 40 years to talk about them. All that plus rockets, spaceflight, and a real behind-the-scenes account of one Apollo astronaut's experience is what you'll get in the delightful "Falling to Earth."
Worden, though not a household name to most Americans, is well known to Apollo buffs the world over as the command module pilot of Apollo 15. Though not one of the twelve humans to walk upon the moon, he has the even rarer distinction of being one of only seven human to orbit the moon solo.
A flood of Apollo books started appearing in the late 1980s, with a wide range of quality and authenticity. On the low end of the scale we have the flimsy, ghost-written "Moonshot" ostensibly related by Alan Shepard to the outstanding "Carrying the Fire" by Michael Collins, long regarded as the pinnacle of the genre. I'm happy to report that "Falling to Earth" is on the high end of this scale.
Worden's account succeeds for one simple reason: his story rings true. You get the feeling that this is a man who's not a trained author, but someone who has poured his heart into writing a direct, vivid and honest account of his life's achievements. He comes across as humble and friendly. I had the feeling that I was having a friendly chat with him in my living room. No pretense, no "right stuff" machismo, just a lot of "this is what happened and I'm proud to say that I was there to be part of it."
Other astronaut bio's have removed the sheen of perfection from the 1960s NASA PR machine, so there's no fresh ground broken there, but...Worden does make some very direct statements about his past colleagues that may surprise some. As you might expect from other tellings, neither Alan Shepard or Chris Kraft come off as likeable guys. Shepard's too full of himself and Kraft's just a cranky bastard. There's also no love lost for Dave Scott. Worden makes clear that he has enormous respect for him as a pilot and astronaut, but they're not buddies by any stretch.
Besides a terrific blow-by-blow account of the Apollo 15 mission, a main theme of this book is the postal cover controversy which engulfed the crew following their return to Earth. This controversy is fairly well known, but it's never been covered in such detail by any of the crew. I had no idea how nasty the whole thing became. Far beyond being a simple PR embarrassment, it summarily ended all of their careers as astronauts. They went from being national heroes to disgraced pariahs with head-snapping speed...all over an error in ethical judgement that in retrospect looks laughably trivial. Most surprisingly, Dave Scott, often portrayed as the most Boy Scout-ish of the astronauts doesn't come out looking so good. By Worden's account, Scott abdicated his leadership role by not coming forward as the initiator of the postal cover deal. If completely accurate, this makes Scott look rather bad indeed. Don't get the wrong idea; this is not a tell-all book used to settle scores, but it does a lot to explain some areas of political intrigue that have been inadequately explored until now.
"Falling to Earth" is successful on multiple fronts. It will be just as interesting to the casual reader as it is to those well versed in Apollo history. There's something for everybody. Al Worden has penned a fine edition to the Apollo canon.
60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2011
A different astronaut biography? How's that you say, after all, most biographies are either lunar centric or space in some manner, and they mostly relate the same experiences (although the effect was varied).
Well, pull up a chair and let me explain. But first, a disclaimer before someone makes a point of it, I worked with Al for a few years, and have known him for over 25 years. But he is a man of such integrity he would be offended if I were to simply write a review in flowery language to boost his sales. No, he would demand integrity on my part as well.
Because that's the man Al Worden is, full of integrity and not only a product of West Point, but an adherent to all that is good about the Point.
So if this ruffles a few feathers, well, that's the way it will be. Honest, to a fault.
Most astronaut biographies are well written. This is no exception. But what sets this book apart from the others is not only the brutal honesty of the scenario involving the philatelic covers so called "scandal", but a viewpoint from a poets mind. Oh not a poet prior to the flight of course. No Al is your arch typical Air Force fighter jock and test pilot.
Al has written 2 previous books, one a kids book about his flight to the moon, and another of poetry from his time in space all alone. "Hello Earth, Greetings from Endeavour" is a good look into the soul of Col. Worden.
His career was sterling. His mission to the moon flawless. He is not a moonwalker as pointed out, that elite fraternity of only 12 men that have set foot on another planetary body. No. But he IS part of that elite fraternity of 6 men who orbited the Moon all alone, and took care of things so the 2 ON the Moon had a place to return to and to be able to get them home. What a responsibility! So this viewpoint, is not one oft read and well worth the read all by itself.
Al also was the first to launch a satellite FROM space, and the very first to perform a deep space EVA for which he still holds the record of furthest deep in space, spacewalk. The first of the truly scientific missions, he was busier than a 1 armed paper hanger during his time alone. He performed admirably.
But shortly after his return from space, it all came crashing down. Due to the snits of a guy who could not qualify to be an astronaut and who seemingly carried the chip on his shoulder, and the actions of the commander and of course, Al not realizing something was wrong; they became embroiled in a controversy that shattered any hopes of another flight in any vehicle.
This story has never been told and I know the "public view" of it has been hurtful to Al ever since it happened. The TRUTH of the situation, is FINALLY revealed. Thank God. It follows Al through the debacle, and rights the misconceptions of the event, and shows how he sued NASA, and came out victorious.
He has thrown himself into doing for others which is simply a product of who he is. His involvement with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is by itself, an undertaking that has benefited many youth attending college.
Al deserved so much better, and this books finally puts to rest the spurious claims I've personally heard over the years and that have been floating around.
A great read, well formulated and put together. Any "space junkie" will enjoy it and this will def. be a must get for any of them. But I highly recommend this to anyone curious about the history of our space program. The cover debacle was done well, but is only a small part of the story, the best parts (his mission etc) are well written and documented.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2011
I have read a good portion of the Apollo-era Astronaut's Biographies and I would rate this one up there with Michael Collins' "Carrying the Fire"--the best out there and one that will never be topped (in my humble opinion.) This one is close, though, and it was an excellent read.
Al Worden was typical of the Astronauts during the Apollo era: hard working, driven to excellence, motivated and accomplished. He got a mission not by sucking up to management but by being a humble man who did his job and did it well. Unfortunately, he lost his job by getting sucked into a scam by a more experienced Astronaut (David Scott) and his only failure, was trusting the Commander of their Apollo 15 mission.
As a child of the 60's who idolized Astronauts, I always said, "Man--I wish I could have walked on the moon." Well, I would have to say that Worden's descriptions of his 3 days of solitary orbiting the moon while Scott and Irwin walked on it has made me change my mind. I would have loved nothing more to have see what he did--the Earth rising over the moon, the sharp angles of craters only tens of miles below him, the visions of stars on the dark side of the moon where he could see "Tens or hundreds more than on the clearest, darkest night from the Earth." (Paraphrase but close to the quote.) I love his description of his trans-earth EVA where Irwin was standing out of the hatch with the large moon framing him some 50,000 miles behind him. "It could have been the most famous picture from space" if Worden would have been allowed to carry a camera but alas, we can only imagine the view from Worden's poetic description as well as a painting created following his poetic description.
Worden also speaks honestly and directly about his cohorts in the space program. He talks about Al Shepard only working a couple of hours a day and leaving to do his real business stuff--that of becoming a millionaire. He speaks of Deke Slayton's honesty and integrity. He speaks of Dave Scott and how that now he is done writing this book, he will spend the rest of his life never thinking of him again. Wow! Obviously the man hurt him deeply because of the famous stamp scandal that he (Scott) got him (Worden) involved in.
Here is a man who once said in an interview--when asked if he would have flown on the ISS or Skylab--a man who answered, "I would have taken any mission they gave me but I didn't have the choice." It's too bad--plenty of astronauts from his group went on to fly and command successful Shuttle and Skylab missions.
All in all, I know I'm rambling but this book really touched me. It brought me back to the first time I looked at the moon through a cheap Tasco telescope when I was nine. The awe and wonder of a child seeing craters and mountains on moon. Hearing his descriptions of orbiting the moon charge me to want to metaphorically be that kid again--a kid that views our wonderful planet with wonder and the joy of discovery.
Thanks, Al, for writing a wonderful book and for not pulling any punches.
(By the way--on his website[...], he has a section called "Just Call me Al" so no Col. Worden from me!)
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
"Falling to Earth: An Apollo 15 Astronaut's Journey to the Moon," by Al Worden and Francis French, is a very good astronaut biography. In a field cluttered with memoirs by other ex-space-travelers, some of them good and some terrible, this book stands out because of its substance, style and subject matter.
As the Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 15 lunar mission, Worden did not land on the moon with his crewmates Dave Scott and Jim Irwin. Rather, he remained in orbit around the moon solo. While Scott and Irwin explored the lunar surface around Hadley Rille, Worden conducted a program of scientific experiments exceeding that of any previous Apollo flight, and stacking up favorably with the results of the final two missions that followed. Worden was the first astronaut to perform an Extra-Vehicular Activity ("EVA") in cislunar space when he went outside of the Command Module to retrieve film packages from two mapping cameras.
But, as spectacular as the Apollo 15 mission was, it was overshadowed by the "postal covers" fiasco that embarrassed NASA, led to a Congressional investigation and cost the three astronauts their careers. Parts of the story of this sad NASA chapter have been available for years to those willing to search for it in other books and on the Internet, but not, to my knowledge, as told by the hapless participants themselves. Jim Irwin has written two books that, according to reviews (I have not read them) are almost exclusively religious in nature, which destroys ANY interest I might have in them. Dave Scott and Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov penned the joint memoir "Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race," but it's been many years since I read it and I don't recall how--or if--it dealt very much with the deluxe stamp flap. "Falling to Earth" fills in the details of the story. It not only tells WHAT happened but, perhaps more importantly, WHY, and, as such, it covers a lot of new ground.
There was a lot more to Apollo 15 than the stamp episode, of course, and Worden describes his training, the flight itself and his activities in lunar orbit in a straightforward, conversational, fast-paced, almost-lyrical style that should captivate any reader. The story of his life before he joined NASA is thankfully brief (I tend to glaze over with too many childhood and teenager tales), but contains many fascinating anecdotes. Although "Falling to Earth" is by no means a "technical" book, its technical aspects are spot on. Worden and French have the ability to simplify obscure technical concepts to educate the general reader without making experts roll their eyes at them.
I immensely enjoyed this long-overdue story of Apollo 15 and the events surrounding it, especially since it offers the relatively rare and hence very valuable perspective of a man who stayed behind in lunar orbit while his crewmates landed. "Falling to Earth" deserves a place on the bookshelf of every space enthusiast.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2011
In fairness, I should first point out that I have collaborated with Francis French on two books for the University of Nebraska Press, but my only input into this remarkable book has been to read through the draft looking for any hidden faults for the authors. This is truly an exceptional piece of writing, and tells a story filled with dramatic facts about the flight and aftermath of Apollo 15 that has long been concealed from public scrutiny, albeit known in essence by those who follow spaceflight history. Al Worden was the Command Module Pilot aboard Apollo 15 who not only participated in one of the most significant science missions in all of spaceflight history, but suffered the dire consequences of an error in human judgement that led to the entire crew being publicly stood down from future NASA flight duties. This book has been described in another review as "no holds barred" and that is a true description of the revelations Worden makes in this book. In the first part of the book we learn about his childhood upbringing and the many influences in his early life, and then the military and flying career that brought him to the attention of NASA. As a member of the fifth group of astronauts he came to know many of his colleagues very well, some certainly not as the superhuman beings portrayed in the popular media of the time, but as human beings, with their differing traits and foibles.
Next, Worden takes us through his training for the Apollo 15 mission, and his dedication to the science involved in the mission is evident in his masterful words, which allows us a unique behind-the-scenes look at what is involved in preparing for an Apollo lunar mission. The tragedy of Apollo 15 is that it is mostly known for two things: not only widely regarded as the most successful of all the Apollo moonlanding missions, which amassed an amazing amount of datum and results, but for the public chastisement and humilation of the crew over some postal covers they innocently carried on board - something that had gone unquestioned in almost every previous U.S. human space mission. In Worden's case, he went from being acclaimed a hero of a massively successful space mission to a stunned and shunned innocent being virtually sacked by NASA and shunted off to a small office at the Ames Research Center. Those who know Al Worden well know he was not one to take such unwarranted persecution lightly, and in this book he sets out in very concise prose the actions he took, and in dramatic fashion lays the blame squarely where he feels it belongs - even at the expense of questioning the actions (or lack of action) of his fellow crewmembers.
This is an unrelentingly good story, filled with heroics of the Right Stuff calibre, but also one which tells for the first, full time the iniquitous way in which NASA and the U.S. government treated three men who had done nothing more than fall into the trap of simply doing what other astronauts and crews had done before them. They were savaged in Congress and in the press of the day, and the covers issue today remains an unfair blight on an otherwise amazing flight to the moon and back.
Al Worden will obviously alienate some people with whom he worked and flew in this revealing, hard-hitting book, but he will also make a host of new friends and allies as readers follow him on this most incredible journey through life and into space, and the aftermath of a notorious, unwarranted scandal that brought his otherwise-spotless career and reputation to an abrupt halt.
As one would expect of the eloquent Al Worden, this is a first-rate book. He and Francis French have masterfully put together an absorbing, true-life take that will be read and appreciated by many. Despite my own meagre participation in this book, I regard it as a new classic of the space age.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2011
Falling to Earth is Al Worden's intensly personal story of triumph, tragedy, and redemption. Best known as the Command Module pilot of Apollo 15 Worden's memoir traces a life that began on a small Midwest farm and reached to the far side of the moon. Within months of being celebrated as a national and international hero he was asked by NASA to clear out his desk and be gone. His participation in what became known as the postal cover scandal triggered a series of events that ruined his career and left him persona non grata with his employer and his colleagues. Struggling through the devastation he slowly rebuilt his self esteem, and reestablished bonds with the Space Agency and his fellow astronauts.
Beautifully if simply written, this story is told from the inside looking out, revealing the joys, the fears, the anger, and satisfaction of a roller coaster career. Al takes us through the slow motion disintegration of his marriage to a woman terrified of the risks her husband was running as a test pilot and astronaut, culminating in divorce just before his historic moon flight. His description of what it felt like to see the Earth from the moon, to experience total darkness in the moon's shadow, out of communication with Earth, and to see the lunar mountains slip past less than 50,000 feet below effectively transport the reader to another world.
But it is his telling of the implosion of his career over the postal cover fiasco that evokes the most empathy. How narrow is the boundary between greatness and farce! Anyone who has worked in a government bureaucracy will instantly recognize the dynamics at play: changing norms of acceptable practice, disproportionate response, and hypocrisy. A West Point graduate, Al clings to an ingrained sense of loyalty to his commander, which has buried this story for four decades. Not the swaggering test pilot of Tom Wolfe's Right Stuff, Al comes across as an everyman swept up into a Grand Adventure, a kid in a candy store who just happened to be there at the right moment in history. And what a moment. Only 24 humans made the trip to the moon. At last we have another compelling first hand account of what is was like to live through the Apollo era, a time when America reached for the stars.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2011
Great book! Superbly written. This one and Michael Collin's book are by far the best I've read so far on the subject.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2011
Good Read. Glad Al explained it all. Good story of his life and demonstrates the sacrifices he made. A real hero. Too bad NASA gave him the shaft. Shows he didn't deserve the treatment. Highly recommend the read.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2011
The Command Module Pilots of the Apollo moon voyages were the most isolated human beings in history---imagine being on the far side of the Moon, out of contact with Earth as well as your two crewmates, who were on the surface on the other ("near") side of Luna. There's also a (perhaps unfair) "so close but so far" stereotype that goes with having been to the Moon but not landing on it, which is another reason the CMPs never seemed to get the accolades that the 12 Moonwalkers received.
But the CMPs, to a man, did their job in a professional manner, and the adventures of Al Worden exemplifed such. Although he has written poetry about his journey, Col. Worden's approach for his life story (abetted by consummate space history authority Francis French of the San Diego Air & Space Museum) is a straight-on, no-frills recollection. He addresses controversial issues head-on, but this book isn't a "warts-and-all" or tell-all/sensationalistic type of read. Written in a style that even non-space buffs can understand and appreciate, Worden simply tells it like it was in a thorough manner, which ought to be appreciated by readers.
This writer has heard Col. Worden speak on more than one occasion at the Kennedy Space Center. He comes off, unlike some other Moon voyagers, like a man at peace with himself, and with his place in history. That same attitude is purveyed in FALLING TO EARTH, and Worden's story is one of the better astronaut recollections about an exciting facet of this nation's history.
Willie G. Moseley
VINTAGE GUITAR MAGAZINE