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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.
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on September 22, 2016
I stayed up late two nights in a row reading this and now I'm tired.

It was well worth it!

I have read Francis French's previous two books, in which he collaborated with Colin Burgess, and found them both excellent reads. This is a different type of collaboration, a different mode of storytelling altogether. It is Al Worden's story, told in Al's voice. There's something about a good first-person narrative like this; you feel you're being spoken to directly and shouldn't interrupt the flow for any trivial reason. So I read this one rapidly.

Several things happened during the reading: I laughed out loud many times, groaned and shook my head at the unfairness of the incident which ended his space flights, immediately searched YouTube for clips of his appearance on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (that was such a lovely thing), and shrieked only once (upon learning how bathroom visits are handled in space).

I am so glad Al Worden chose to tell his story. I am delighted it was told in such a compelling fashion. I plan to recommend this book to several people, but they can't borrow my copy-- I won't risk not getting it back!
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VINE VOICEon August 26, 2011
"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.
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on August 4, 2016
I've read just about every astronaut memoir that is available today. Some are great, some are tedious and some are preachy. "Falling to Earth" is in that first category. I was very impressed with Al Worden's ability to communicate the immense joy and connection with the cosmos he felt as he talked about his Apollo 15 mission. I was also impressed with Worden over his ability to discuss the negative aspects of his post Apollo 15 experience including the disappointing behavior of Dave Scott and by NASA. I'm glad Worden has a positive relationship with NASA again as he is one of a select few who sailed this new ocean of space to explore the Moon. An enjoyable and accessible book that is a worthy addition to your Space Library.
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on May 5, 2017
I found this to be an excellent story of one of the third generation astronauts, and one of the Apollo astronauts. By the time Al Worden had joined the program, the original Mercury Astronauts were (with a couple of notable exceptions) treated as gods, and rather arrogant. Worden had to learn how to navigate the waters around these gods, work with them and still function as an astronaut. He did an excellent job. He was also a human being, with faults. He owns-up to these faults, which ultimately led to his downfall at NASA. Interestingly, the troubles that Worden caused had been done by other astronauts. However, his became public. One thing that NASA couldn't abide was bad publicity. This was a really good book, full of great descriptions of a lunar mission.
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on August 13, 2012
One of the more interesting, and different of the astronaut memoirs.

On a personal note, I remember Al Worden being one of my favorites of the astronauts, though I didn't know anything personal about him at the time, and knew little more since then until reading this book. It sounds silly, having a "favorite astronaut" like he was a baseball player or popular singer, but that's the way you think when you're a kid. My reason for liking Al Worden was even sillier. I thought he was a real life space man who looked like a TV spaceman, noticing (I thought) a strong resemblance between him and Uncle Martin, the Martian on the TV show "My Favorite Martian". I admit it was silly, but I was only 9 years old..

What makes Worden and these memoirs different is that you can almost call him an "accidental astronaut". Unlike most of the astronauts, who tell about childhood obsessions with airplanes and flying, Worden was a farmboy to whom an interest in flying came late. He atteneded and graduated from West Point, not because of a desire for a career in the military, but because it was a way of getting a free education at a prestigious university, and money was short in his family. In this way, his story resembles that of US Grant, who reluctantly attended West Point for similar reasons, and who also went on to great things after a grudging beginning.

What is interesting about Worden's story and those of the other astronauts, is how, whatever endeavor he entered, from West Point to the Air Force to the astronaut program, though he doesn't seem to have pushed himself forward, to have tried to draw attention to himself, his talents and abilities immediately brought him to the front of his group, and he found himself in important positions of leadership. For example, of his astronaut group, though at first he wasn't the obvious standout, he was the first to be placed in a crew assignment.

One of the things that will most interest readers of this book is his version of the whole so-called postage-covers scandals. As I remember the scandal, it was a big story maybe for two days and then disappeared, and the public was neither outraged or much interested. It was a big stink in NASA, and congress had a few hearings, but the average man in the street didn't think it was anything so terrible, and even thought the astronauts, in trying to get some financial security for their families, did nothing wrong.

An interesting revelation was that, before Worden's Apollo 15 flight, the crew of the previous mission, Apollo 14, also raised eyebrows with some dealings similar to the postage covers mess. It never hit the newspapers, and NASA handled it internally, looking into it and issuing a set of directives covering such dealings, but that these directives had never been communicated to the astronauts themselves! Had they done so, the Apollo 15 scandal would never have occured. To me this takes the whole blame for the scandal from the astronauts and places it on NASA management. That NASA messed up to begin the scandal and then messed up further in creating a furor over such a trivial matter shows how they were losing their way after reaching their focused goal of landing on the moon. I don't think they've found their way since.

One lesson in this, for famous people, is how a trivial matter that can become a newspaper headline for a single day, one of little interest even to the public, and soon to be forgotten, can wreck a career and throw a carefully lived life into a long-term turmoil. Worden's career in the astronaut corps was ended and his NASA career interrupted (he recovered nicely after a while) by something that, a week after it hit the news, was completely forgotten by the public itself, even if those in NASA clung to it.

As other reviewers mentioned, Apollo 15 mission commander Dave Scott does not come off well in Worden's telling of the story. To return to the TV references above, he seems to have been the Eddie Haskell of the astronaut corps, and he managed to keep his skirts clean while others around him got dirtied. Scott did have the look of a wise guy in his NASA photographs, and watching the videos of his EVA's, he seems a bit hammy and bossy. Bossiness was his style of leadership, as contrasted to, say, the quiet but strong authority of a Tom Stafford, the worried insistence of a Frank Borman or the almost mute, hands-off approach of a Neil Armstrong. But let's not make Scott out as some kind of villain. In my opinion neither he or the crew did anything wrong in the stamp matter, NASA's handling of the thing was a ridiculous, panicked over-reaction combined with selective and arbitrary justice, congress's morale outrage was base hypocrisy at its worst, their criticism of and posturing and grandstanding on the astronauts allegedly attempting to "capitalize" on their government positions (as if this wasn't standard operating procedure for congress) both laughable and disgusting. Perhaps Scott's biggest mistake was, as commander, not taking on himself, and absolving his crewmates of, all blame for the mess. The commanding officer (in the military) or boss (in civilian life) gets a lot of considerations and privileges and prerogatives with his office, so it is equally his duty to take the brunt of consequences when bad things happen, and in this one case, it seems, Scott failed. But this isn't a case of outrageous villainy.

Worden gives some interesting insights into, of all people, President Nixon. Early in the book, he complains about having to stop in the middle of his space chores to listen to a windy and pretentious pronouncement from the president on the esoteric and philosophical meanings of the Apollo 15 mission and of space flight while he was, at the same time, cutting NASA's budget. You get the idea he disliked the president. Yet later on, when he visits the White House with his two daughters, he goes into detail how Nixon went out of his way to treat him and his kids with kindness and attention, and he seems to have liked Nixon (and Spiro Agnew) personally from his dealings with them, and felt strong identification with both because they were, as he was, dragged down by scandals that could have been trivial if handled differently, and properly.

One last thing. Worden goes into his historic deep space spacewalk in depth, and the main thing I took from it is the idea of some more of NASA's shortsightedness. This spacewalk was one of the most spectacular, could have been the most visually spectacular, events in the Apollo program, but passed into obscurity because it was barely photographed. Worden himself points out that there was no rush about the event, as they were on their way back to Earth with not too much to do on the way; time could have been taken to give him a camera, but this was not done, and many great pitcures were missed. Too bad.

But this book should not be missed by the space enthusiast. It is well written, tells a story that is quite different from other astronaut memoirs and gives a perspective on how upper management will protect itself, its favored employees (for example, Alan Shepherd) while sacrificing others like Worden and Apollo 15 crewmate Jim Irwin in its attempts to come clean by airing its dirty laundry.
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on September 15, 2011
In all fairness, I am Al Worden's webmaster. It doesn't seem like over five years have passed since I was sitting in his kitchen when he mentioned to his two guests that he wanted to write his autobiography. Al had a lot on his mind that day - and, in all honesty - I knew most of the underlying story. I'm glad he teamed up with Francis French as co-author.

Five years later, the book is published. It was not what I had expected. After working with this delightful man for five years, I couldn't believe how much I DIDN'T know about him - and it was fun to read about his past. However, he kept the names of the "cover scandal" such a closely guarded secret, that I can honestly say that I was shocked to read all but one name - and it never ceases to amaze me how one of these men killed so many promising careers.

Al Worden is a true gentleman. After the way NASA treated him, he had every right to walk away for good. However, 40 years later, he spends all of his spare time raising funds for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation [originally founded by the original Mercury 7 astronauts] and helped turn it into a multi-million dollar scholarship entity for deserving students who want to go into the field of aerospace engineering. I can count on three fingers the number of people who would do that under the circumstances.

His co-author, Francis French, once again did an admirable job of putting Al's memories into print. I know how long the process took and how hard it was to choose between stories and not make it a typical astronaut autobiography. I'm proud to have both of them as my friends.

A great book - A great story - A great man. Read and enjoy his book [and visit his web site, you won't be disappointed]. And thank you for the mention in the back, Al. It's greatly appreciated.
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on December 11, 2016
Worden gives a candid account of his experience getting into the Astronaut Corps and his experiences during and after. It was amazing reading his account of the mission and the little details he recalled from flying around the moon and coming back. It's littered with little details you might not think about (if you're not already a space race guru)... like when the Command/Service Module is flying en route to the moon, they must "spin" the spacecraft so as to avoid uneven solar heating (which could burn some of the electronics or warp materials). Never thought of that before. But one interesting side-effect, is their urine forms a crystallized ice ring around the spacecraft, as it is expelled rather than stored... So that has to be considered when looking outside at times...
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on May 24, 2016
This is a very good Apollo astronaut memoir. Well written and a really interesting story that is quite different to what you expect. Al Worden did a good job of clearing his name - when actually he didn't need to. The so called scandal he describes was more about injustice and a lack of perspective than anything "shady". Nobody is perfect. For crying out loud these guys went to the moon - and their detractors are perfect examples of how jealous people try to drag others down to their own levels. Warden's story would probably make a much better and more dramatically interesting movie than any of the melodramas made of the more obvious missions purely because audiences would not know the story or how it ended. The Apollo 13 movie was dull because everybody on the planet knew how it ended! More importantly Worden's story has protagonists and antagonists instead of the mythical astronaut super heroes. I hope that movie gets made!
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on January 12, 2017
Between college, sports and a part-time job, it usually takes me about a month to finish a book depending on its size.

I just finished reading 'Falling to Earth' by Al Worden and Francis French in three days! I just could not put the thing down. To say I enjoyed it immensely is an understatement - and I mean that - it was awesome!

Whether it was describing the 6 a.m. starts at West Point, or the time spent in lunar orbit while his crewmates walked on the lunar surface below, Worden and co-author French do wonderful job in describing not only "an Apollo 15 astronaut's journey to the Moon," but his journey through life. So many questions I had about the dynamics of flying to the Moon, as well as life as an Apollo astronaut were answered in this book.

The writing style used in this book must not be overlooked - so much so - that sometimes I felt like Al Worden was sitting next to me and telling me his story!

I must compliment the authors for allowing someone like me - who would not be born for another quarter of a century after the Moon landings - to try and understand what life was like back when people did bold things. I found this book to be funny, moving and extremely informative - offering valuable insights into life before, during, and after selection as a NASA and Apollo astronaut

Books like Falling to Earth contain priceless stories, valuable lessons, as well as providing a source of perspective and inspiration.

This is not just a book for those interested in space exploration - it is essential reading for anyone with the determination to dream big and do great things!
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