Charles Duke Jr., retired USAF Brigadier General, pointed to a gooey, purple blob floating around the inside of a space shuttle on the projection screen.
“That’s what grape juice looks like in outer space,” he said.
Duke spoke about “The Adventures of the Apollo Moon Landings” Tuesday to a room full of boy scouts, families, students, faculty members and astronomy enthusiasts. The department of history and Phi Alpha Theta sponsored the lecture with an award by the University Lectures Committee.
The retired general is the youngest of 12 men who have walked on the moon, and he was number 10 to take the lunar steps with the Apollo 16 crew in 1972. The two years of training landed the crew a 71 hour and 14 minute stay on the lunar surface of the moon, making it the longest in history.
Duke’s main goal of the trip was to collect rock samples, although he said he went for the adventure. The shaking during takeoff was what he described as one of the most exhilarating moments.
“My heart was really pounding. No amount of talk can prepare you for the vibration you experience,” he said.
The astronauts accelerated around Australia after burning six and a half billion pounds of fuel during lift-off.
“Into the window comes the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen — the little, round jewel, Earth, suspending in black space,” he said. “You just see this jet black all around you, but you’re in sunlight, so it’s not like the blackness of a cave.”
The Apollo crew members inspired Americans to dream of walking on the moon. However, before Neil Armstrong and the Apollo missions, the idea was a little different.
“My childhood dream career was not to be in a space program,” Duke said. “I didn’t say ‘Mama, I want to walk on the moon.’ She would have sent me to the psych ward.”
He actually wanted to serve the United States like his hero pilots in World War II. Instead, Duke was able to make history by participating in five different Apollo missions.
The astronaut was capsule communicator for Apollo 11, the first landing on the moon. Duke said he was so excited he mispronounced “tranquility” as “twanquility” during initial communication with the newly-landed crew. He also was a backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 13, the mission with the chilling explosion that inspired the motion picture directed by Ron Howard.
“After the explosion, the next 99 hours were a real nail-biter,” he said of Apollo 13.
Duke said he was only scared once during his time on the moon — when the crew members were trying to break the height record for jumping. He fell and almost experienced dire consequences to his oxygen supply.
“I started to fall on my back. Fortunately, I landed on my side,” Duke said. “Mission control was very upset.”
Dorothy Duke, his wife , said the hardest part was the training, because for two years the crew was gone for long periods of time. She also said they had two young boys at the time, ages five and seven, who were nervous about their Dad going to the moon.
“It was so competitive, and a lot of other people wanted to go. I was proud my husband got to go,” she said.
Duke ended his lecture with a relation to how the space program changed the world. He said the technology it inspired is taken for granted, and the current ability to have instant communication is remarkable.
“You can buy flight simulators now that are as good as what we had when I was at NASA,” he said. “I’m for the space program. I think we need to continue it, because the resulting technology will spread all across the country.”
Duke’s footsteps on the moon have been gone for some time, but he left one lasting memory for any future astronauts.
“I left a picture of my family on the moon,” he said.