50 years after Apollo 16, South Carolinian Charlie Duke describes the “overwhelming” view from beyond

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Published: May. 6, 2022 at 6:14 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A big celebration at the South Carolina State Museum marks 50 years since Apollo 16, when South Carolinian Charles Duke became the youngest person ever to walk on the Moon.

Duke was raised in Lancaster and is still going strong inspiring the next generation.

The memory from the 11-day mission remains clear for Duke, who sat down with WIS for an interview outside the exhibit.

“Well, it seems like it was yesterday that we lifted off,” Duke admitted. “But it’s been 50 years, and the thrill of Apollo and the importance of Apollo in my life seems to be growing not fading.”

Apollo 16 marked the 5th moon landing, but believe it or not, Duke says his family saw his achievement as ordinary.

“My Dad hardly believed I went to the Moon.” Duke explained. “My 5-year-old and 7-year-old didn’t think it was any big deal. The whole neighborhood was going to the moon.”

Duke lived in the same neighborhood as other astronauts, including Neil Armstrong who was the first man to walk on the moon in July of 1969.

Nearly 3 years later…in April of 1972, 36-year-old Charlie Duke was strapped in on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral ready for his rendezvous with history.

Duke said that he was not nervous for the voyage, as his team had undergone intense training for two years.

“When we got ready to lift off… the thought was more… ‘Let’s go! I’m ready. I’ve trained two years for this. Keep countin’ "

The unforgettable journey to the lunar surface placed Duke in elite company.

“There’s only 4 of us left alive who walked on the moon… Buzz Aldrin. Dave Scott, myself and Jack Schmitt.”

Duke was also the first South Carolinian in space, and paved the way for other South Carolinians to follow including Ron McNair, Charlie Bolden and Frank Culberson

McNair passed away in the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986.

In the 50 years since the Apollo 16 voyage, Duke still reflects on the view of Earth from beyond.

“Orbiting the moon, you come around from the backside and there, earth rises. And it’s a beautiful jewel of blue and white. And the brown of the land… just suspended in the blackness of space. It’s almost emotionally overwhelming.”

Many of us gaze at the moon from below each night. But perhaps it takes a man who has been there to offer a higher perspective.

“I think through technology- we can all build a better life and learn to love one another. And get along. Sometimes you say- ‘Well it’s hopeless’. But it’s not hopeless. We have these bumps in the road. But as we climb that mountain….we carry our younger generations, our kids and our grandkids along with us.”

For more information about the Apollo 16 exhibit at the State Museum- click here.

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