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The moon landing Friday, 16 July, 1999, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
The story from Mission Control
Mission Control
The Apollo 11 mission gave Charlie Duke (left) some tense moments
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Charlie Duke played a pivotal role in the first landing on the Moon, and was later able to walk upon its surface himself.

Charlie Duke
Charlie Duke: "A humbling experience"
"To be a part of the first landing on the Moon was a humbling experience," he told BBC News Online, while on a visit to London. "That night I went home and just could not believe we did it."

"I was the capsule communicator, the voice the astronauts talked to for the landing. The atmosphere was electric.

"We had all sorts of program alarms going off during the descent. I looked across to Steve Bales, who was the guidance engineer, and he kept waving me on.

"We were a team, and I felt like the rest of them. To get this thing done, we all had to do our jobs and they weren't going to fail because of me.

"About a minute before the landing I was talking too much. Deke (Slayton) leaned forward from behind me, gently poked me in the ribs and said light-heartedly, "Duke, shut up and let them land!"

"It was such a tense time. I called out how much fuel they had left - 60 seconds, 30 seconds... No one expected them to be on the surface by 60 seconds of fuel left, but when 30 seconds came I knew it was close.

"Neil was a wonderful pilot, he did it all just right."

Apollo 13
Apollo 13 was not expected to make it back
Apollo 13: "I thought we were going to lose them"

Charlie Duke realised he would have his own chance to walk on the Moon when he was named as a member of the back-up crew to the ill-fated Apollo 13. This meant he would be part of the prime crew for Apollo 16.

"When Apollo 13 malfunctioned I was at home in bed," he says. "I got into Houston within a hour and walked straight into a simulator to try to work out what went wrong.

"At first I thought it was bad and that we would lose them. Something will run out, I thought.

"But as they rounded the Moon I began to believe that we could bring them home."

Moon nightmares

Mr Duke tells the story of a dream he began to have before he went on his own journey to the Moon.

"I was driving the lunar rover across the Moon, when I came across some tracks that weren't ours. I asked Mission Control for permission to follow them and they, of course, said yes.

"After a mile or two, in the dream, I saw in the distance another rover, identical to ours. When we reached it I saw two motionless astronauts in the seats.

"I walked around the rover and up to one of them. I lifted the visor and looked into my own, dead, face."

But bad dreams did not stop him taking up his chance to follow in Armstrong's footsteps.

"Like trying on an old glove"

Apollo 16's flight to the Moon went without a hitch - but on their approach, things began to look more troublesome.

"For a while it seemed that we were not going to land," recalls Charlie Duke.

Charlie Duke on the moon
Charlie Duke still dreams about his moon walk
"Ken Mattingly, the Command Module pilot, told us that we were not in a correct orbit around the Moon. Going by the book, a landing was out, but for five hours Houston worked the numbers and eventually gave us the all clear.

"John Young and I whooped and floated into the Lunar Module. I knew it so well that it was like trying on an old glove."

Apollo 16 landed on the Descartes plains. For Charlie Duke, it was an overwhelming moment.

"I still dream about it. I recall looking back across a magnificent valley untouched for billions of years. That will never leave me."

And, he remembers, there was an inconvenient side to walking on the moon:

"After the Moon walks, the inside of our spacecraft became filthy with moondust. To me it smelled like gunpowder."

The Order of Ancient Astronauts

Charlie Duke was the 10th of just 12 men to have walked on the moon. His experiences with Apollo 11, and aboard Apollo 16, put him among an elite group of privileged individuals.

"We have a club of sorts," he says. "We call it the 'Order of Ancient Astronauts.' We meet once in a while, and of course we all still dream.

"I would like to go back into space. I am younger than John Glenn, but I wouldn't want to be a passenger. I'd love to pilot the space shuttle.

"When I left the Moon in 1972 I had no idea that it would be so long before we would return there. But I did have a feeling that by 2000 we would be going on to Mars."

Charlie Duke: "There were 400,000 people supporting those 3 men"
Watch the Apollo 16 crew walking on the Moon
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