James Benson "Jim" Irwin (March 17, 1930 – August 8, 1991), (Col, USAF), was an American astronaut, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and a United States Air Force pilot. 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.[1]


Early life and educationEdit

Irwin's grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Altmore Parish at Pomeroy in County Tyrone, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) around 1859.[2] Irwin himself was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of Scottish and Irish descent, on March 17, 1930.[3] 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 degree in Aeronautical Engineering and Instrumentation Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1957.

Flight experienceEdit

He received 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 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.

Irwin was a developmental test pilot for the Lockheed YF-12, the Mach 3 interceptor which preceded the SR-71 Blackbird. His first flight of that aircraft was on the day that one of his five children was born.[4]

In 1961, a student pilot that 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.[5] Dr. John Forrest, a U.S. Air Force orthopedic surgeon, was instrumental in preventing the amputation of Irwin's leg.

During his military service, he accumulated more than 7,015 hours flying time, 5,300 hours in jet aircraft.[5]

NASA careerEdit

File:James Irwin's EVA suit from Apollo 15.jpg

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.

Apollo 15Edit

Main article: Apollo 15
Apollo 15 Lunar Rover and Irwin

Irwin and the lunar rover during Apollo 15

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 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the Moon's surface amounted to 18 hours and 35 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).[6] 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.[1] This extra training is credited with allowing them to make one of the most important discoveries of the Apollo era, the Genesis Rock.[6]

Apollo 15 flag, rover, LM, Irwin

James Irwin salutes the United States flag on the Moon on August 1, 1971

Apollo 15 landed in the Moon's Hadley-Apennine region, noted for its mountains and rilles.[1] 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.[1] Scott and Irwin's stay on the Moon was just under three days at 66 hours and 54 minutes.[1]

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 US$310,500 in a consignment of material from Irwin's estate that garnered "a combined US$500,000".[7]

Health problems on Apollo 15Edit

Main article: Apollo 15, Return to Earth

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.[8] 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.[9] The astronauts' physiological vital signs were being monitored back on Earth, and the flight surgeons noticed some irregularities in Irwin's heart rhythms.[9] Irwin's heart had developed bigeminy.[10] 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."[10] But Berry concluded that since Endeavour's cabin atmosphere was 100% oxygen when in space, Irwin was in the best of circumstances.[10] 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."[10]

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.[8] The flight surgeons continued to monitor his EKG until splashdown, but his heart rhythm was normal.[10] 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.[10]

Stamp incidentEdit

Main article: Apollo 15 postage stamp incident

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,[11] but on this occasion the administration decided to reassign the Apollo 15 crew to non-flight positions.

Post-NASA careerEdit

Christian BeliefsEdit

I felt the power of God as I'd never felt it before.

— Irwin, describing his experience during the Apollo 15 lunar mission.[12]

Irwin left NASA and retired from the U.S. 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".[13] He frequently spoke about how his experiences in space had made God 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 at least two serious heart attacks, one near his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado from his heart problem on Apollo 15. Paramedics restarted his heart on at least two occasions before transporting him to the hospital. On August 8, 1991 while visiting his friend Alan Nelson, MD in Redstone, CO, Col. Irwin suffered another heart attack after a bike ride with his German friend Siegfried Fietz earlier that day. All attempts at resuscitation, including CPR by Dr. Nelson with Melody Durham RN and the ER staff of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, were unsuccessful. He died in hospital later that day and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[14] He was 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.


Irwin was a member of the Air Force Association and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.[15]

Awards and honorsEdit

Irwin's other awards include -

Belgium's Order of Leopold in 1971; Kitty Hawk Memorial Award, 1971; New York Police Department St. George Association's Golden Rule Award in 1972; Christian Service Award; Milan Hulbert Trophy of SWAP International in 1973.

He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Astronautical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1971; an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the William Jewell College in 1971; and an Honorary D.Sc. from the Samford University in 1972.[15]

He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1983, and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, on October 4, 1997.[12][16]

In mediaEdit

In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon Irwin was played by Gareth Williams.


  • 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)

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Template:Cite book
  2. Template:Cite book
  3. "Biographical Data: James Irwin". Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. August 1991. Retrieved 2007-02-15. 
  4. "Living With an American Hero | Latest Space News". Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Flight of the Falcon: The Thrilling Adventures of Colonel Jim Irwin
  6. 6.0 6.1 Woods, David (2006-09-14). "Mountains of the Moon". Apollo 15 Lunar Surface Journal. NASA. Retrieved 2007-02-15. 
  7. Template:Cite journal
  8. 8.0 8.1 Template:Cite book
  9. 9.0 9.1 Woods, David (2004-05-28). "Apollo 15 Flight Summary". Apollo Flight Journal. NASA. Retrieved 2007-02-15. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Template:Cite book
  11. Falling to Earth pp 257-258 - Al Worden ISBN 978-1-58834-309-3
  12. 12.0 12.1 "International Space Hall of Fame :: New Mexico Museum of Space History :: Inductee Profile". Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  13. "Colonel James B. Irwin - About Us & Board". Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  14. "James Benson Irwin (1930 - 1991) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Astronaut Bio: James Irwin". Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  16. "James B. Irwin | Astronaut Scholarship Foundation". Retrieved 2015-04-23. 

External linksEdit


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