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Jim Irwin will always be remembered as the astronaut who walked on the moon and discovered God. Upon his return from space, he would try to find Noah's Ark amongst many other biblical projects. Sadly, he was also the first of the twelve moonwalkers to die.
James Benson Irwin was born on St Patrick's Day 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but his family relocated to Salt Lake City when he was a child. He attended East High School and later went to the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1951 with a degree in Naval Science. He then chose to pursue his ambitions in flight with the United States Air Force and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and went to basic training and upon completion of the course was posted as a Fighter Pilot. Irwin, always keen to extend his academic qualifications, was allowed to go to the University of Michigan and after intense study received two degrees, one in aeronautical engineering and the second in instrumentation engineering.
Irwin then returned to the Air Force and became a project officer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio through to 1960. After three years in Ohio, Jim Irwin wanted to extend himself and he eventually got onto the rosta for the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California. The course lasted a full twelve months and upon successfully completing it, Irwin became Test Director for the ASG-18/AIM-47 armament system. He served in this capacity until 1963.
The military in the early 1960s was eager to exploit the potential of space and many of the US Navy and USAF top pilots were selected to attend the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards, Irwin was amongst them. All the candidates that completed the course were likely to be called upon eventually to go into space with NASA.
1963 saw the start of a two year association with the Lockheed A-12 as Test Pilot. The A-12 was the forerunner of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and as such many of the A-12s systems were of an advanced nature. It was during 1964 that Jim Irwin firmly believed himself capable of being part of NASA's astronaut corps and he applied for admittance. He was rejected on the grounds that he had broken both his legs and jaw bone in a plane crash. He also suffered from memory loss and brain concussion. Such was his determination to succeed that during the long 14 month recovery program Jim Irwin never gave up on his ambition to be an astronaut. Part of his recovery program to bring the pilot's memory back involved hypnosis and the introduction of serum into his body.
Irwin's determination to be a NASA astronaut paid off when in April 1966 he was selected to be amongst 19 astronauts selected that year for training. Following training he became the Lunar Module Pilot for Apollo 15. The mission blasted off on 26 July 1971 and Jim Irwin together with Dave Scott roamed the surface of the moon at Hadley Ridge and Apennine Mountains for almost three days. The pair were the first space travellers to use the moon buggy, which they used to drive for almost 18 miles. For Jim Irwin, the trip became a religious experience when they brought back a 4.15 billion year old rock nicknamed "The Genesis Rock."
He was due to on the backup crew for Apollo 17 but NASA officials discovered that he had been dealing in the sale of stamps and envelopes taken to the moon—this led to his removal from active astronaut training and Apollo 15 would be his one and only spaceflight. After his successful mission to the moon, Jim Irwin resigned from NASA and the Air Force on 1 July 1972 and founded the High Flight Foundation, a non profit evangelical organisation based in Colorado Springs. Six searches for the remains of Noah's Ark at Mount Ararat in Turkey resulted in no remains and on occasion his arrest on espionage charges by the Turkish authorities.
On 8 August 1991, Jim Irwin suffered a heart attack and died in Glenwood Springs in Colorado. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.