Astronaut Charles Duke to speak about Moon landings

Posted by University News Service
March 11, 2009

Astronaut Charles M. Duke, the youngest of only 12 astronauts to walk on the moon, will speak on “The Adventure of the Apollo Moon Landings” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 7, in Flowers Hall Room 341 on the Texas State University-San Marcos campus.

The lecture, sponsored by the Department of History and Phi Alpha Theta, is made possible by an award from the University Lectures Committee. The lecture is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served afterward.      

Duke, retired USAF Brigadier General, was the 10th person to walk on the Moon. He served as lunar module pilot of Apollo 16 in 1972, when he and John W. Young made the first landing in the rough Descartes Highlands region and conducted three extravehicular activities. 

During a record-setting stay on the lunar surface of 71 hours and 14 minutes, Duke and Young placed and activated scientific equipment and experiments, collected nearly 213 pounds of rock and soil samples, and evaluated the use of Rover-2 over the roughest surface yet encountered on the moon.

In 1969, Duke was a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 10. He then served as capcom (capsule communicator) for Apollo 11, the first landing on the Moon, where his distinctive southern drawl became familiar to viewers around the world. As capcom, he was the voice of a Mission Control made nervous by a long landing that almost expended all of the lunar module Eagle's fuel.

Duke's famous first words to the Apollo 11 crew on the surface of the moon were flustered: "Roger, Twank...Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue here. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!"

Duke was backup Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 13. Two days after the launch, an electrical fault caused an explosion, resulting in a loss of oxygen and electrical power in the Command Module. The crew shut down the Command Module and used the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” for the return to earth.

Despite great hardship caused by severely limited power, cabin heat, and potable water, the crew successfully returned to Earth and the mission eventually became known as a "successful failure". A radio transmission from Astronaut James Lovell during the mission, "Houston, we've had a problem," spawned the misquoted phrase in popular culture, "Houston, we have a problem."

Duke also served as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 17. He has logged 265 hours in space, plus 21 hours and 28 minutes of extra vehicular activity. In December 1975, he retired from the Astronaut program to enter private business. He is owner of Duke Investments and is President of Charlie Duke Enterprises.

He and his wife Dorothy, who live in New Braunfels, have two sons and nine grandchildren. Duke is an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. After his Apollo 16 experience, he became a Christian, and he is active in prison ministry. He is also author of the book Moonwalker

For further information, contact the Texas State Department of History at (512) 245-2142.