Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon

Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon

Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon

Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon


This book enriches the saga of mankind's greatest scientific undertaking, Project Apollo, and conveys the human cost of the space race--by telling the stories of those sixteen astronauts and cosmonauts who died reaching for the moon.


In the final phases of the last moon walk by the Apollo 15 astronauts on 2 August 1971, a small but unsanctioned ceremony was carried out amid the deep lunar valleys at Hadley Rille.

Mission commander Dave Scott had recently conducted his “Galileo Experiment” in front of the lunar module Falcon, simultaneously dropping a falcon's feather and a geology hammer, with both hitting the lunar surface at the same instant. Soon after, Scott disappeared behind the Lunar Rover, which he and Jim Irwin had driven across the moon's surface. Back in Houston, CapCom (Capsule Communicator) and fellow astronaut Joe Allen, anxious to record every activity, asked what was taking place up there at Hadley Base. “Oh, just cleaning up the back of the Rover here a little, Joe, ” was the noncommittal response. In fact Dave Scott and fellow moon walker Jim Irwin were conducting a small, unofficial commemoration of the eight astronauts and six cosmonauts known (at that time) to have died prior to their lunar mission.

Meanwhile the third member of the Apollo 15 crew, Al Worden, was orbiting the moon in Endeavour, the command module. As his part of the tribute he had organized a small tin figurine by noted sculptor Paul Van Hoeydonck called The Fallen Astronaut. Jim Irwin's responsibility had been to place the fourteen names alphabetically on a small metal plaque. In these few stolen moments, and without NASA's knowledge or consent, Dave Scott stuck the plaque into the lunar soil and placed the deliberately toppled figurine in front of it. He then moved back and photographed the small memorial.

All was later revealed at the postflight press conference, and years after Dave Scott would recall the crew's tribute to the fourteen men. “We made a plaque for all the astronauts and cosmonauts that had been killed. And a little figurine, a Fallen Astronaut, and we put it right by the Rover. You can see it in the picture [NASA photo 88-11894]. That was just a little memorial, in alphabetical order. In relative terms, we had lost a lot and, interestingly enough, we didn't lose any more after that until Challenger. That's what I was doing when I said I was clearing up behind the Rover. Jim knew what I was doing. We just thought we'd recognize the guys that made the ultimate contribution. We felt satisfied in doing it. Several good guys didn't get to go. ”

This book is a further manifestation of that commemoration to a handful of men who died reaching for their ultimate goal—the moon. Four astronauts died in aircraft accidents, three suffered a horrifying death in a launch pad fire, and another was killed in an automobile crash.

These eight men were all superb pilots, and each undoubtedly would have had a profound participation in NASA's Apollo program. The composition of several Apollo crews would doubtless have been different had they lived, and it might even . . .

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