Charlie Duke is one of the luckiest people on earth. In 1972, as part of Apollo 16, he not only flew to the moon, but also drove a lunar rover on the moon. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon as part of Apollo 11, he served as the radio link between NASA and the astronauts.
Twelve people have walked on the surface of the moon. Only four people are alive. Duke is one of them. The others are Harrison Schmidt (Apollo 17), David Scott (Apollo 15) and Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11).
As a Christian missionary, Duke has recently been busy delivering speeches and traveling the world with his wife Dorothy. He has accumulated more than 4 million frequent flyer miles with Delta Air Lines. Duke University also actively participates in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and recently served as its chairman.
On November 28, Duke will return to the air as a special guest on a zero-gravity (weightless) flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 25 passengers will each pay $10,000 to ride a modified Boeing 727 parabola with Duke, and then have dinner with him, where they can ask questions about his historic trip to the moon. Earlier this year, on May 9th, Mother’s Day, Duke also took a similar weightless flight. Facts have proved that the November flight plan was very successful.
I caught up with the moonwalker and discussed his upcoming flight, his memory of the moon, and so on. In our chat, the topic of racing appeared. I mentioned that I often take passengers to the NASCAR racing experience at the Daytona International Speedway at 170 mph, and get closer to 3G on the corners. (Of course, Duke knows something about G because he has received a lot of astronaut training at NASA.) I jokingly asked him if he would like to have fun with me. He agreed without hesitation, and we agreed on October 10.
The following is an excerpt from my recent telephone conversation with Duke, now 85, at his home in New Braunfels, Texas.
Jim conflict: Now that it is so popular, what do you think of Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic suborbital space tourism program? If one of them gives you a free seat, will you accept it?
Charlie Duke: I think this is really great, something for space tourism. For Bezos, being able to auction a seat for $28 million is great.As for the 82-year-old lady [Wally Funk, who went through astronaut training in the 1960s but never got to fly to space] He is taking it, which is also great. I guess they examined her physically. I think she can still fly and is a flight instructor. As for my going up, I am not sure at my age. I have to look at the system. I might ride a rocket with Bezos and get some kind of recovery. With Branson’s space plane, I don’t think anyone will bring a parachute, so it seems a bit risky. But a friend of mine has signed up and paid, so he is leaving.
conflict: In May of last year, you had a zero-gravity weightlessness experience on the modified Boeing 727. how are you feeling?
Duke: We made about 15 parabolas, alternating between 1/6 [lunar] Gravity, one Martian gravity and 13 zero gravity gravity. Of course, everyone likes zero gravity the most. It was funny, spinning and bumping into each other, laughing and giggling. You can also try to catch the object thrown at you and catch a blister in your mouth, just like we did on Apollo. No one was injured, and no one vomited. Even cooler is that you will take off from the Space Shuttle Landing Facility, which is the largest runway in Florida and one of the largest in the United States-15,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. Taking off on the same runway as the space shuttle landing is an excitement and privilege.
conflict: Any suggestions for people who are just starting out?
Duke: If you are near the top of the plane and the horn is sounding, it means they will start to withdraw, you’d better get to the floor quickly, otherwise you will descend quickly real hurry [laughs]. If you land at a speed of 2.5 G, it will definitely attract your attention.
conflict: What is the most memorable thing you have been on the moon for so many years?
Duke: Landing, very energetic. We entered an area where our photo resolution was only 45 feet, and a 30-foot crater would engulf the lunar module. You have to choose a location very quickly, and the closer you are to us, the more dynamic it is. Secondly, I think this is the excitement there, the miracles of all this, the enthusiasm it generates in you. No matter what your goal is, just see the beauty of the moon and climb the stone mountain. What’s on the next ridge? Every short trip-we have 3 times-is exciting. I definitely want to do it again.
conflict: As part of Apollo, all 12 people you walk on the moon, we are all surrogate through you!
Duke: I am lucky that I was selected. I can’t tell you how to do it.like [Apollo 12 moonwalker] Alan Bean said: “They had to choose someone, they chose me [laughs]. “