On 50th anniversary of Apollo 16, astronaut Charlie Duke remembers the thrill of it all

His space suit could have leaked, killing him on the spot. And the tiny engine on the lunar floor could have failed, leaving him withered away from home.

But danger was not primarily on Charlie Duke’s mind 50 years ago this week, when he and others Apollo 16 Astronauts John Young and Ken Mattingly were in the middle of one of NASA’s last and happiest missions to the moon.

“I was thinking about how comfortable I was up there,” said Duke, who is in town for Saturday’s anniversary gala that the San Diego Aviation & Space Museum gathered to celebrate the historic 11-day space trip.

“We belonged on the moon. “It’s human nature to explore, either through a microscope, or through a telescope, or an adventure like ours,” he told the Union-Tribune.

During a program little known to younger generations, two dozen American astronauts visited the moon between late 1968 and late 1972. Half of them walked on its surface with large craters. Only four of the last team – Duke, Buzz Aldrin, Dave Scott and Harrison Schmidt – are still alive.

The United States is the only nation to send a spacecraft to the moon, an achievement that Duke, a retired Air Force pilot and longtime businessman, is trying to keep alive.

Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke walked on the moon in April 1972.


He is now 86. But he still travels extensively for talks, frequently visiting cities that have a rich history in space program.

Cities like San Diego.

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, was lifted into space by an Atlas rocket built here. Parts of the space shuttle and the International Space Station also come from San Diego. And the area has become a feeding program for astronauts’ bodies. One of NASA’s current stars, Jessica Meir, will give her opening speech in June at UC San Diego, her alma mater. He is a member of Project Artemis, which aims to bring humans back to the moon.

“He narrates his experiences on the moon in ways that grab the public with the accessible humanity of the experience,” said Francis French, a San Diego-based historian and space writer, about the Duke tradition.

“I have often felt that I was there on the moon with him as he shared his stories about the three days of exploration he did there.”

Duke, a warm, capricious Texan, is grateful to be part of NASA’s history, especially one mission that was considered to be canceled.

Project Apollo was launched in the midst of a state of emergency in the early 1960s as the United States engaged in a Cold War space war with the Soviet Union. President John F. Kennedy set the seemingly impossible goal of sending men to the moon and back by the end of the decade.

Apollo 11 achieved this goal in 1969. Aldrin and Neil Armstrong arrived on the moon with less than 20 seconds of fuel on their landing craft. Michael Collins circled on the command line.

Armstrong called NASA to say he was safe. Duke was on the other end of the line in Houston and he replied“Roger, Tranquility, we’re copying you on the ground.

“You have a lot of kids who are going to turn blue. We breathe again. Thank you very much!”

It was a moving moment. But NASA soon canceled three of the nine scheduled subsequent lunar landings. Public interest waned after the first landing. The rising cost of the project has caused concern. An explosion in Apollo 13 almost killed his crew. And Americans have focused more on issues like Vietnam and civil rights.

For a while, it seemed that the last two flights – Apollo 16 and 17 – would also be fragmented.

“This thought went through my mind,” Duke told the Union-Tribune.

“In my opinion, the NASA hierarchy canceled the last three missions because the political climate was changing. “They said we had a successful program and if we had an accident and killed someone on the moon, it would have a disastrous effect.”

Apollo 16 was launched safely on April 16, 1972, launching into space with a 36-story rocket, much of which was built in Orange County. The spacecraft entered lunar orbit three days later. But Duke and Young’s trip to the surface was delayed by six hours when a problem was found in the engine in the steering wheel.

The crew had been trained for almost two years, especially for such moments with white hinges. In the process, however, Duke, the pilot of the lunar unit, allowed himself to appreciate for a moment the moment.

“I wondered what it would be like to land (on the moon),” Duke said. “It’s going to happen to be Overwhelmingly emotional? “

He got his answer on April 20, when he and Yang drove their fragile Orion spacecraft to the Descartes region of the moon, becoming the first explorers to reach the lunar highlands.

Previous landings – especially Armstrong and Aldrin – are remembered, in part, for the painful observations they made when they set foot on the lunar surface.

Armstrong said: “This is a small step for man. A huge leap for humanity. “Aldrin said,” Beautiful view … Wonderful wilderness. ”

Duke, who at 36 was the youngest of the moon walkers, simply exclaimed: “Pig dogs! That’s wonderful!”

He smiles in memory.

“By the time we got to our mission, no one really cared about what (I) would say,” Duke said. “I had nothing prepared … John was not a deep thinker. I was not at that point either. ”

For many people, the permanent images of Apollo 16 include fascinating video footage of Duke and Yang roaming the regolith with an electric lunar rover clocked at 8.6 mph. They traveled 16.6 miles, about the distance between downtown San Diego and San Isidro.

They looked like aliens from a strange planet. Duke remembers how happy he was and how consequent he was. Over time, the experience would change his life profoundly.

Many scientists believed that in the area of ​​Descartes there were rocks that had been formed by volcanic activity, proving that the moon had evolved for a long time. Instead, Young and Duke found rocks associated with meteorite impacts.

“Our training was all evolutionary,” Duke said. “It was never mentioned that God created everything at once or anything like that. It was just an evolution. “

He had grown up in a Baptist family, but did not strongly question his scientific training until later, when he left NASA and had problems with his marriage.

Duke says he and his wife, Dotty, underwent a religious conversion that led them to the creative belief that everything in the universe was created by one God.

“The Spirit of God spoke into my heart and said, ‘Can you believe this or can you believe them?’ What are you going to do?'”

He chose creation, a belief that he maintains to this day.

Duke does not believe that NASA would have automatically rejected him if he had expressed this belief while seeking a coveted position as Apollo astronaut.

That belief “had nothing to do with your ability,” he said.

On 50th anniversary of Apollo 16, astronaut Charlie Duke remembers the thrill of it all Source link On 50th anniversary of Apollo 16, astronaut Charlie Duke remembers the thrill of it all

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