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He landed on the moon, but couldn’t work a British pay phone

Astronaut James Irwin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 15, from July 26 to August 7, 1971, and he walked on the moon, but he couldn’t figure out how to work a British pay phone.

James Irwin of Apollo 1

And that was how I managed to secure an interview with Irwin a couple of years after his epic moon walk.

The BBC had asked me to go to the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London, England, to try and interview Irwin, but because of a traffic snarl up, I arrived well after his press conference had ended.

When I approached him, my BBC tape recorder in hand, he told me, “I’m sorry, but I’m not giving anymore interviews.”

However, like any journalist worth his salt, I decided that his reply was not the end of the story, so I followed him across the lobby of the huge hotel and watched him, confusion written over his face, trying to work out how to make a call on a British pay phone.

The deal…

The Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London

After a few minutes, I approached him again and said, “Mr. Irwin, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll make the call for you if, in return, you will give me an interview.”

A wry smile came over his face and he handed me some coins, gave me the number he was trying to connect with and I did the rest.

I then retreated so he could talk to the person on the other end of the line in privacy and then, when he had finished, he came over to me and said, “I guess, young man, you’ve earned the interview.”

Irwin laughed and added, “Can you believe it? I landed on the moon, but couldn’t work one of your pay phones!”

Irwin, a born-again Christian, then gave me a fascinating interview in which he said, “It is more significant that God walked on earth than that man walked on the moon… my own life is given purpose and perspective through God who walks on this earth in Jesus. In that sense we are a visited planet!”

He went on to say, “It was my experience in exploring the moon on the Apollo 15 mission that moved me to devote the rest of my life to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Astronaut James Irwin uses scoop to sample lunar soil. Photograph taken on August 2, 1971 during Apollo 15

His companions on the moon flight were David R. Scott, spacecraft commander and Alfred M. Worden, the command module pilot and Apollo 15 was the fourth manned lunar landing mission and the first to visit and explore the moon’s Hadley Rille and Apennine Mountains which are located on the southeast edge of the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains).

Their lunar module, “Falcon,” remained on the lunar surface for 66 hours, 54 minutes-setting a new record for lunar surface stay time — and Scott and Irwin logged 18 hours and 35 minutes each in extravehicular activities conducted during three separate excursions onto the lunar surface.

Using “Rover-l” to transport themselves and their equipment along portions of Hadley Rille and the Apinnine Mountains, Scott and Irwin performed a selenological (lunar science) inspection and survey of the area and collected approximately 180 pounds of lunar surface materials.

He even showed me a piece of moon rock that he was carrying with him.

Irwin had, by now, became the founding president of the High Flight Foundation, an inter-denominational evangelical organization based in Colorado Springs, and he stated, “I felt the power of God as I’ve never felt it before.

“While on the moon, at the end of the first day exploring the rugged lunar highlands, I was reminded of my favorite Biblical passage from Psalms. While speaking by radio to Mission Control in Houston, I began quoting the passage, ‘I’ll look into the hills from whence cometh my help,’ and then I added quickly, ‘but, of course, we get quite a bit of help from Houston, too.”

And, on this occasion, Irwin, who sadly died of a heart attack in Glenwood City, Colorado, on August 8, 1991, “looked” to a British journalist to get some help in operating a British pay phone, and he wasn’t the first person from overseas who had experienced the same problem. (They are now much easier to operate!)

Since that time, I have moved to America and started the ASSIST News Service and if you would like to read a story about our work called “God’s Newswire” — published today (Wednesday, February 9, 2011) — just go to: http://lakeforest-ca.patch.com/articles/gods-newswire-here-in-lake-forest and you can see it there.

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