On the evening of July 31, 1971,
as Brookline Little Leaguers battled it out under the lights at the
Community Center baseball fields, and friends gathered on front porches
around the neighborhood to relax in the cool evening air, curious eyes
gazed skyward at the moon, shining brightly overhead.
The Apollo 15 spacecraft had landed the previous day, and on
this night Commander David Scott and Colonel James Irwin would become
the seventh and eighth men in the history of mankind to step foot on
the moon's surface.
It had been two years since Neil
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's historic first moonwalk, and although the
Space Race buzz around the nation had cooled somewhat, here in Brookline
and nearby Beechview, this evening was definitely something special. This
was the evening that a boy from the neighborhood was going to walk on
James Irwin was born on March
17, 1930, to James and Else Irwin, at Magee Womens Hospital in Oakland.
The Irwin family first lived on Palm Beach Avenue in Beechview before
moving to 625 Dorchester Avenue in Brookline. James and his younger
brother Charles attended Brookline Elementary School until he was ten
years old. In 1940, the family moved from the state, eventually settling
James graduated from East High
School in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1947. He received a Bachelor's Degree
in Naval Science from the United States Naval Academy in 1951. After
transfering to the Air Force to become a test pilot, he earned a
Master's in Aeronautical Engineering and Instrumentation
Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1957.
As a United States Air Force test
pilot, Irwin logged over 7000 hours. He flew prototype aircraft like
the YF-12A Interceptor, and attained the rank of Colonel.
Then, in 1966, Irwin was one of
the nineteen astronauts selected by NASA for the space program. 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 was the dry run for the first manned lunar landing. He then served as
backup lunar module pilot for the second moon landing
mission, Apollo 12.
In the Spring of 1971, the crew
for the Apollo 15 mission was announced. The Commander was David Scott,
the Command Module Pilot was Alfred Worden, and the Lunar Module Pilot
was James Irwin. The crew prepared for their July liftoff.
Apollo 15 crew: David Scott,
Alfred Worden and James Irwin.
The Apollo 15 mission began on
July 26, 1971. The spacecraft orbited the earth three times and then
headed for the moon. Once in lunar orbit, on July 30, Commander Scott
and Colonel Irwin entered the Lunar Module, undocked from the Command
Module, and headed for the surface of the moon.
After a successful touch down,
the astronauts spent a total of two days and eighteen hours on
the moon. During that time, Scott and Irwin together made three moonwalks,
totalling eighteen hours and thirty minutes outside the vehicle. Their
science-based mission was one of NASA's most successful manned space
flights, and among their many discoveries was the Genesis Rock, which has been dated at over 4.5 billion years old.
Colonel James Irwin salutes the
American flag and explores the moon's surface - August 1, 1971.
The Lunar Module left the moon's
surface on August 2, 1971 and docked with the Command Module for the
return trip home. When the crew splashed down successfully on Earth, on
August 7, 1971, they had logged over 295 hours in space.
Irwin left NASA and retired from
the Air Force in 1972. He went on to pursue a career in Christian work,
and spent the next twenty years searching the Holy Land for religious
relics, including an unsuccessful search for the remnants of Noah's
His final years were spent at
his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After years of cardiac problems,
James Irwin died on August 8, 1991 of a heart attack in Glenwood Springs,
Colorado. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
In the history of man, only
twelve individuals have stepped foot on the surface of the moon: Neil
Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar
Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene
Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.
When Brookline and Beechview stargazers
peer towards the heavens at the Old Man in the Sky, we can look with pride
knowing that one of their own has left footprints in that cosmic place where no
person may ever go again.
Wikipedia: Colonel James Irwin.
NASA Astronaut Biography: Colonel James Irwin.
* Information obtained
from 1940 Census and James Irwin obituary.