Dubai Airshow

Worden Eyes Resuscitation of U.S. Space Program

 - November 17, 2019, 3:18 AM
John Rakolta Jr. (left), U.S. ambassador to the UAE, and Apollo astronaut Col. Al Worden at the Dubai Airshow’s USA Pavilion.

President Donald Trump needs bipartisan support to relaunch the U.S. space program, which has been dormant for more than two decades, Col. Al Worden (USAF Ret.) told AIN on the sidelines of the official opening of the U.S. Pavilion on Day One of this year's Dubai Airshow.

Expressing doubts over whether the administration, if reelected, would win the support needed to relaunch full-blown space activity, he said, “I have hopes. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] has been very quiet for the last 20 years. [It would take] leadership [to get it back off the ground]. The president is trying. The problem is that the leadership in the U.S. is pretty fragmented right now. I think whatever President Trump wants to do, Congress is not going to give him.

“I think there's a problem here. When JFK said: ‘We're going to put a guy on the Moon and bring him back safely within 10 years,’ [with] the whole country behind him, he had Congress behind him. All he had to do was go to Congress to say [what this was going to] take and they voted. They gave him the money. Trump has a completely opposite problem.”

Worden, 87, served as command module pilot for Apollo 15, the ninth crewed mission of the U.S. Apollo program and the fourth to land on the Moon. He is at the Dubai Airshow for the second time in two years, to support U.S. firms active in the Gulf market. He will also see a new international scholarship set up in his name, to invite international students to study space in the U.S. The first four students from the UAE on the program will shortly travel to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, for a period of study.

“I think we will continue through with sending a crew to back to the Moon,” Col. Worden said. “We'll do that to have them stay there for a while, so we find out what it's like to live in a harsh environment for a long time. There are other things we could be doing on the Moon, but that is getting us ready to go to Mars. Going to Mars is going to be a very difficult problem, because there are things that are going to have an impact, which we don't even talk about, [such as] radiation.

“Radiation is going to be a huge problem. It's not so much a problem in an Earth-Moon system, but it is [when] going to Mars; we don't know how to handle the radiation, especially on a long-term flight. Going to the Moon's easy, [taking] only two weeks. Going to Mars could be a year-and-a-half, and that radiation is going to be there the whole time. We have no understanding of what it's going to take to keep people alive for that long.”