|James Benson Irwin|
March 17, 1930|
|Died||August 8, 1991
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
|Other occupation||Test Pilot|
|Alma mater||United States Naval Academy, University of Michigan|
|Time in space||12d 07h 12m|
|Selection||1966 NASA Group|
James Benson Irwin (March 17, 1930 – August 8, 1991) was an American astronaut. He served as Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 15, the fourth human lunar landing. He was the eighth person to walk on the Moon and the first, and youngest, of those astronauts to die.
Irwin's grandparents emigrated to the USA from Altmore Parish at Pomeroy in County Tyrone, Ireland around 1859. Irwin is a third cousin of Cherith Andrews (Nee McFarland) socialite and Advertising Manager at the Daily Mirror Northern Ireland. Irwin himself was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of Scottish and Irish descent. Irwin graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1947. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in naval science from the United States Naval Academy in 1951 and a Master of Science in aeronautical engineering and instrumentation engineering from the University of Michigan in 1957.
He received his flight training at Hondo Air Base and Reese Air Force Base, Texas. He graduated from the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1961 and the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1963. Prior to joining NASA, he was chief of the Advanced Requirements Branch at Headquarters Air Defense Command. During his time in the United States Air Force he received an Air Force Distinguished Service Medal and two Air Force Commendation Medals. He also received an Outstanding Unit Citation while with the 4750th Training Wing.
In 1961, a student pilot Irwin was training crashed the plane they were flying on a training mission. They both survived, but Irwin suffered compound fractures, amnesia, and nearly lost a leg. Dr. John Forrest, a U.S. Air Force orthopedic surgeon, was instrumental in preventing the amputation of Irwin's leg.
Irwin was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. He served as a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 10, the first mission to carry the full Apollo stack to the moon and the dry run for the first manned moon landing. He then served as backup lunar module pilot for the second moon landing mission, Apollo 12.
Between July 26 and August 7, 1971 – as the Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) – Irwin logged 295 hours and 11 minutes in space. His Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) on the Moon's surface amounted to 18 hours and 30 minutes of the mission time (an additional 33 minutes was used to do a stand-up EVA by opening the LM's docking hatch to survey the surroundings and take photographs). Irwin and David Scott's mission was more science-based than previous missions, which meant that they received intensive geological training to meet the demanding nature of the J-Mission profile. This extra training is credited with allowing them to make one of the most important discoveries of the Apollo era, the Genesis Rock.
Apollo 15 landed in the Moon's Hadley-Apennine region, noted for its mountains and rilles. As a J-Mission, they would spend more time on the moon than previous missions, to allow for three EVAs. As well, Irwin was the first automobile passenger on the moon as Scott drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) carried along for this mission in the Lunar Module (LM) Falcon's Descent Stage. Scott and Irwin's stay on the Moon was just under three days at 66 hours and 54 minutes.
A patch cut by Irwin from a backpack abandoned on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission was auctioned at Christie's in 2001 for $310,500 in a consignment of material from Irwin's estate that garnered "a combined $500,000".
Health problems on Apollo 15
Once the rendezvous procedure was completed between Falcon and the Endeavour CSM, Irwin and Scott were busy moving items like rock samples into the CSM and preparing the Lunar Module for final separation. During this intense period of work the earliest symptoms of a heart condition appeared. Both Scott and Irwin had been working with no sleep for 23 hours, during which they conducted a final moonwalk, performed the ascent from the lunar surface, rendezvoused with Endeavour, and encountered the problems that delayed the Lunar Module jettison maneuver. The astronauts' physiological vital signs were being monitored back on Earth, and the Flight Surgeons noticed some irregularities in Irwin's heart rhythms. Irwin's heart had developed bigeminy. Dr. Charles Berry stated to Chris Kraft, deputy director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) at the time: "It's serious, [i]f he were on Earth. I'd have him in ICU being treated for a heart attack." Endeavour's cabin atmosphere was 100% oxygen when in space, so it was decided that he was in no serious danger by Dr. Charles Berry. Specifically, "In truth,...he's in an ICU. He's getting one hundred percent oxygen, he's being continuously monitored, and best of all, he's in zero g. Whatever strain his heart is under, well, we can't do better than zero g."
During the post-Trans Earth Injection (TEI) phase of the mission there wasn't much more for Irwin to do other than provide help with Al Worden's EVA to retrieve film magazines from the CSM's SIM bay, by donning a pressure suit and monitoring him. He was able to rest and apparently recover during the rest of the mission. The flight surgeons continued to monitor his EKG until splashdown, but his heart rhythm was normal. This incident apparently was not discussed during the mission debriefing sessions, and the condition did not appear when he returned to Earth. A few months later he had a heart attack.
After the return of Apollo 15 to Earth, it was discovered that, without authority, the crew had taken 398 commemorative first day covers to the moon of which a hundred were then sold to a German stamp dealer. The profits of the sale were intended to be used to establish trust funds for the Apollo 15 crew's children. NASA had turned a blind eye to similar activities on earlier flights, but on this occasion the administration decided to reassign the Apollo 15 crew to non-flight positions.
Irwin left NASA and retired from the Air Force with the rank of Colonel in 1972 and founded the High Flight Foundation, spending his last 20 years as a "Goodwill Ambassador for the Prince of Peace", stating that "Jesus walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon". He frequently spoke about how his experiences in space had made the presence of God even more real to him than before.
Beginning in 1973, Irwin led several expeditions to Mount Ararat, Turkey in search of the remains of Noah's Ark. In 1982, he was injured during the descent and had to be transported down the mountain on a horse and then to the nearest hospital by Lieutenant Orhan Baser and his commando team. Lieutenant Baser was assigned to protect and lead the team on this expedition.
Irwin suffered a serious heart attack near his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He died on August 8, 1991, as the result of a subsequent heart attack in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He is survived by his widow, Mary Ellen, and their five children. Of the 12 men who have walked on the moon, Irwin was the first to die. The James Irwin Charter Schools were founded in Colorado in his honor.
Honors and awards
- Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
- Air Force Commendation Medal, twice
- NASA Distinguished Service Medal
- Command Pilot Astronaut Wings
- United Nations Peace Medal, 1971
- Haley Astronautics Award (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1972)
- To Rule the Night: The Discovery Voyage of Astronaut Jim Irwin (with William A. Emerson, Jr., 1973)
- More Than Earthlings (1983)
- More Than an Ark on Ararat: Spiritual Lessons Learned While Searching for Noah's Ark (with Monte Unger, 1985)
- Destination: Moon (1989)
- Flight Of The Falcon: The Thrilling Adventures Of Colonel Jim Irwin (1991)
- Reynolds, David West (2002). Apollo: the epic journey to the moon. TEHABI BOOKS. pp. 166–189. ISBN 0-15-100964-3.
- Allen, Sam (1985) . To Ulster's Credit. Killinchy, UK. p. 123.
- "Biographical Data: James Irwin". Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. August 1991. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- Flight of the Falcon: The Thrilling Adventures of Colonel Jim Irwin
- Woods, David (2006-09-14). "Mountains of the Moon". Apollo 15 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- Antiques Roadshow Insider, V.7, No.2, February 2007, p.11
- Chaikin, Andrew (1994/1998). A Man on the Moon. Toronto: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-027201-1.
- Woods, David (2004-05-28). "Apollo 15 Flight Summary". Apollo Flight Journal. NASA. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- Kraft, Chris; James L. Schefter (March 2001). Flight: My life in Mission Control. New York: Penguin Group. pp. 342–343. ISBN 0-525-94571-7.