An Apollo astronaut who set a record for social distancing is being remembered for the close relationships he made in life.
Alfred "Al" Worden, who died in March at the age of 88, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the "most isolated that any human has been from another person," a feat he achieved while orbiting high above the moon as part of NASA's Apollo 15 mission in 1971. Now his fans, friends and family are gathering virtually to celebrate his legacy.
"Colonel Al Worden departed this world for the second time on March 18, 2020. He left the first time on July 26, 1971, when he blasted off from Earth perched atop the giant Saturn V rocket that lifted him and his two crewmates on their epic journey to the moon and back," Worden's family posted online. "Throughout the five decades in-between — indeed throughout his entire active 88 years of life — Al Worden had a profound positive impact on thousands of people all over the world as he fulfilled his varied roles of explorer, engineer, educator, poet, friend, partner, father and benefactor."
"With COVID [the coronavirus pandemic] continuing to keep us physically distant, more than ever we need opportunities to come together for one worthy purpose. We'd love for you to join us in a celebration of the life of astronaut Al Worden."
The public is invited to watch the broadcast, which will begin at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) on Saturday (Sept. 19), by registering through the celebration's website.
Tributes will be delivered by those who knew Worden the best: his family, fellow astronauts and an array of people from around the world who worked with him to inspire the next generation of explorers.
"We have members of Al's family who will have a chance to tell some stories about Al — or 'Sonny' as they called him back on the farm in Michigan — and then members of Al's 1966 astronaut class, including Charlie Duke, Jack Lousma and Fred Haise," said Tom Kallman, president and CEO of Kallman Worldwide, who is organizing and hosting Saturday's celebration.
Other astronauts taking part include active NASA astronaut Drew Morgan, who like Worden graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and British astronaut Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA), who met Worden at the Paris Air Show during an appearance organized by Kallman Worldwide.
"We also have videos from the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, from people who will share how Al's life influenced them," said Kallman.
The program will briefly recount Worden's history as an Apollo 15 astronaut and his record-setting trip to the moon, as described by Francis French, the co-author of Worden's autobiography. In addition to being the most distant person in history, Worden was also the first astronaut to perform a spacewalk beyond Earth orbit.
Speakers will also highlight the aspects of Worden's personality that made him so memorable. Worden stood out due to his energy, optimism and humanity.
"If we can all remember to use Al as an example and live by that kind of example, the world could be a better place," Kallman said.
"We are also trying to make this celebration be a feel good event. We will have some fun with our Hawaiian shirts," he said, referring to Worden's trademark look. "I think the average person tuning in who only knows that Worden was an Apollo astronaut will get a sense for the impact that he had."
The celebration had originally been planned as a hybrid in-person and online event to coincide with the anniversary of Worden's moon mission in July. The continuing impact of the pandemic necessitated that the tribute be virtual. Once the program streams on Saturday, the video will be available on demand.
In addition to the celebration, Kallman Worldwide is also accepting donations for the Astronaut Al Worden Endeavour Scholarship Foundation, which underwrites sending students and educators from around the world to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
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