Colonel James Irwin
He Walked On The Moon

Colonel James Irwin

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 the moon.

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 in California.*

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.

YF-12A Interceptor

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
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 standing
on the surface of the moon.   Colonel James Irwin standing
on the surface of the moon.
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 Ark.

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.

Apollo 15 Mission Patch

Wikipedia: Colonel James Irwin.

NASA Astronaut Biography: Colonel James Irwin.

* Information obtained from 1940 Census and James Irwin obituary.

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