Twelve men have walked the moon. Only nine are still alive. This past Tuesday, Tech students had the opportunity to listen to the experiences of the youngest astronaut to ever walk the moon, Charlie Duke.
Duke was on campus to award a $10,000 scholarship to Jonathan Walker, third-year AE, from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
Duke attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with a degree in Naval Sciences in 1957. He went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received his Master’s degree in Aeronautics in 1964.
Duke did not always know what he wanted to do while growing up. During his childhood, there were no space programs to inspire him to become an astronaut.
“I grew up in South Carolina and there was no space program so I wasn’t like, ‘Mama I’m going to walk on the moon’,” Duke said. “I got interested in graduate school at MIT.”
In 1965, Duke graduated from the Aerospace Research Pilot School and in 1966 was selected one of 19 selected for NASA’s fifth group. In 1969, he served as capsule communicator for Apollo 11 and was picked for backup crew on Apollo 13.
“One week before the launch [of Apollo 13] I caught the measles and gave it to everyone else.”
Duke first set foot on the moon with Tech graduate John Young in April of 1972 on Apollo 16, making him the tenth person to walk on the moon.
During his time in the astronaut program, Duke logged over 2,000 hours the simulator and 500 hours in a space suit.
“We went through rigorous training effort, but we were really focused to get on the moon,” Duke said.
He worked on Apollo 16 as prime crew. Apollo 16 was the fifth manned lunar landing mission and the first scientific expedition to inspect, survey and sample materials on the moon.
Duke shared stories from his first flight to the moon to his most embarrassing moments.
“It was just a smooth ride for three days to the moon,” Duke said. “The moon was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. Into my view on the right side floats the Earth 16,000 miles away. [There were] three colors in my memory; brown, white and the crystal blue of the ocean.”
While landing on the moon, several problems arose.
“We missed a 40 foot crater by about three yards,” Duke said.
Duke also showed video footage of him and the crew exploring the moon and conducting experiments. Duke’s most embarrassing moment occurred when he dropped several millions worth of experiments. Thankfully, nothing was damaged.
Duke retired from NASA in 1975.
“I only got one flight, but the one I got was fantastic, and I was thankful,” Duke said.