Got to hear Moonwalker Charlie Duke Speak today

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Got to hear Moonwalker Charlie Duke Speak today

Post by gt0163c »

A couple of the technical associations where I work brought in Charlie Duke to give a lunchtime presentation today. He mostly spoke of being the lunar module pilot for Apollo 16 and his experiences on the moon. But included some stories of being in the astronaut corps, viewing the Apollo 13 movie preview with many Apollo astronauts and mission controllers and a few very brief comments about being capcom for Apollo 11's landing on the moon.

Some highlights:
Fresh moon dust smells like gunpowder. No one knows why.

The most nervous he's ever seen anyone was during the Apollo 13 movie premiere when Tom Hanks and Ron Howard were wringing their hands watching the astronauts and mission controllers watch the movie and waiting for their feedback. (*Spoiler Alert!* They thought it was really well done and Mr Duke recommended it with the added caveat that it is a movie and not a documentary and there were more mission controllers doing the work on the ground than were shown in the film).

He explained that getting moon rock samples into the sample bag was most efficient when the astronauts were working together, mostly due to the limited range of motion of the lunar EVA suits. Then he showed some video of him trying to collect a rock himself. Took him a few tries and there were lots of chuckles (including from Mr Duke himself) but he did manage to bag the rock. He also showed video of him falling down forward and taking a few tries of a combined push/jump to get himself back on his feet. Also video of him dropping about $10,000 worth of scientific equipment while carrying it. Fortunately none of it was damaged. Mr Duke called that his most embarrassing moment on the moon.

The range of the lunar rover (which he referred to as "the car") was set by the approximate distance the astronauts thought they could walk. This was in case the rover broke down and they had to return to the LEM on foot. They did some practice on earth, on a circular track with a rig that simulated 1/6th G (probably similar to the sim at Camp although he didn't mention that) and they figured they could probably go about 3 miles, maybe stretching it to 4 max. The farthest they ranged from the LEM was about 5 km (~3.1 miles for the metrically challenged among us).

The lunar rover speedometer pegged at 17 km/hr. Both rover missions pegged the speedometer while driving downhill and there were friendly arguments over who drove fastest on the moon. The Guinness Book of World Records officially declared a tie.

During Apollo 16's time on the moon, they navigated by using shadows. Due to the slow progress of the sun in the lunar "sky", during the 72 hours they were on the surface, shadows always pointed west.

Apollo 15's crew had shown some heart arrhythmia issues and tested low for potassium. As a result Apollo 16's crew's orange juice was enriched with potassium. The potassium acted as a mild laxative and gave the crew members gas. Fortunately the LEM's environmental control system was able to filter the air fairly well. But they were close to running out of bags for solid (or not so solid) waste.

Fear can be a useful emotion...if you don't panic. Fortunately Mr Duke did not panic when, after "setting the high jump record on the moon", he tipped over backwards. He was able to control his fall so that he landed mostly on his right side rather than squarely on his fiberglass backpack which contained all of the life support systems for his lunar eva suit. Had he not done so, the mission could have ended very differently.

The flag planted by Apollo 16 was appears sorta crumpled up not because the whole thing was a hoax and it was blowing in a breeze but because it was really crumpled up due to being vacuum packed for 6 months prior to the flight and Mr Duke not being able to get it completely uncrumpled. He assured us that men really have been to and walked on the moon!

During liftoff, the Saturn 5 rocket rocks and sways a lot due to the gimballing of the main engines. Mr Duke said that he was certain the rocking and swaying was an indicator that something was wrong. But mission control gave the go and commander John Young said they were go so Mr Duke figured all the rocking and swaying must be normal. After the flight, Mr Duke said that he asked the flight surgeon what he heart rate had been during ascent. The flight surgeon responded that he must have been "a bit excited" as it was 144 bpm. Veteran astronaut John Young's heart rate was about 70 bpm at the same point.
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Re: Got to hear Moonwalker Charlie Duke Speak today

Post by Phoenix PK »

Congratulations on meeting General Charlie Duke. A true gentleman, and a very friendly and approachable guy. He's a National Treasure!
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Re: Got to hear Moonwalker Charlie Duke Speak today

Post by p51 »

Thanks for taking the time to relay the memories of a true American hero (and a very pleasant individual, according to those I know who've been lucky enough to meet the man). Don't forget, he was in a movie about Space Camp, too! Doesn't anyone else remember his quick cameo in "Space Warriors" where he's in the Davidson Center building?
Interacting with any Apollo astronaut (moonwalker or CSM pilot) is an experience anyone should treasure. They're all in the 80s or so now and sadly, there will probably soon be a time when there'll be nobody to ask what walking on the Moon was like.
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Re: Got to hear Moonwalker Charlie Duke Speak today

Post by SpaceCanada »

Wow, what a treasured experience. Thank you for sharing. Somehow, hearing trivia and personal stories about astronaut missions makes them seem more real; tangible and relatable to us mere earthlings. Someone needs to make a museum dedicated solely to the Moon missions - an expansion to the Davidson Center, perhaps? All of these stories will be gone too soon; it will be a tragedy when that day comes.

If you haven't seen it already, the film 'In the Shadow of the Moon' captures some of those stories, as told by the astronauts themselves. It's one of my favourite space documentaries.
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