by Bob Jamison
22 Mar 12
NASA’s youngest astronaut to walk on the moon during Apollo 16, Charlie Duke gave the main address at the Texas Outdoor Writers Conference in New Braunfels, Texas recently. His talk described his experience as yesterday though many folks were very young or possibly before some were born.
But those of us (and there were many) were glued to the television and remember when he talked from Mission Control to Apollo 11 as they were about to become the first landing on the moon. His immortal words when he heard “Houston, The Eagle Has Landed” (on the moon), Charlie said, “Congratulations, you have a bunch of guys (mission control) down here about to turn blue”!
That simply meant Charlie (the astronaut manning the control communications to the space craft from mission control called Capsule Communicator (or Cap COM), spoke to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It was because they all had held their breath for the difficult landing. Few people realized the lunar module in which they were riding, had severe complications with some instrumentation problems. Then Armstrong manually took over the controls for a perfect landing with only seconds of fuel to spare.
Since Apollo 11, there were several more flights to the moon. They were Apollo 12, Apollo 13 (aborted in mid flight due to an explosion), Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and finally Apollo 17. That essentially ended space flight to the moon and the Apollo program. However, many years since science continues to study a myriad of scientific findings resulting from recovered lunar artifacts.
Duke continued with the space program with the birth of the Shuttle flights. They were launched to study our planet and indeed, the universe. Those many flights, dangerous as they all were, brought back studies that will fill books for years to come.
Of course, a lot of folks say we spent a lot of money on the moon and in the vacuum of space. In reality, there was never a cent spent anywhere in space. It was all spent right here in the good old U.S.A! Countless jobs were created by the space program and knowledge of our place in the sun is still being discovered as a result.
One of the big reasons Charlie Duke was invited to speak to the Texas Outdoors Writers Association is because he himself is a writer and outdoorsman. He published his own documentary book named “Moon Walker” some years ago and has had several editions since of the excellent account of his life and Apollo 16. His book is written in a clever down-home dialect that only a southerner from South Carolina could use.
The book includes his feelings, points of anxiety, and exhilaration of his mission accomplished. Though his modesty is reflected to a great degree, he frankly discusses in his book some of the technological challenges. He even discusses questions during his countless public appearances of personal difficulties including every thing from being away from his family to how he managed to go to the bathroom. After all, it’s what people want to know!
Nowadays, Charlie Duke and his lovely wife Dotty enjoy life as a typically retired couple in a beautiful area of Texas. Their two sons are off on their own successful lives and as always, share with the world profound pride.
The Dukes are no stranger to Liberty County, Texas. They spent many days near Dayton with friends and fellow astronauts. The major points were being with their kids here and joining with others and their kids doing what families like to do. Fishing, hunting and maybe even setting a trot line or two in the mighty Trinity River is what it’s all about.
General Duke and his wife are busy with their own personal ministry while touring the speaking circuit discussing their commitments to lives in the military, science, experiences of unimaginable excitement in space and indeed, how it relates to each of us and especially how it all relates to the Almighty. After all, it is a small ‘world’, isn’t it?