NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
M. Duke, Jr.
Interviewed by Doug Ward
Houston, Texas – 12
Voice Off Camera: And we’re recording.
this is our oral history interview with Charles Duke, Apollo astronaut.
The date is March 12, 1999. And, Charlie, one of the things that struck
me in going back over some of the information on your career was the
number of you guys who came into the Astronaut corps from Eagle Scout
backgrounds. I think I counted—at last count there were 293
current and former astronauts. Forty of you had been Eagle Scouts,
including you. Is that a cause-and-effect sort of a relationship?
Or do you think it’s just that people who excel in one thing
tend to excel in all of them?
Duke: I think
there’s probably some connection, Doug. It might be slight.
Some connection. I learned in Scouts responsibility, dedication, perseverance,
goal-setting, patriotism, all of those things, I think, that led me
to a career in the military. And from that background in the military,
then, I was starting my military career and the space program was
getting started, all of those attributes and characteristics that
had been foundational in my life through the Scouts, I think, certainly
helped me in my military career and then focused me in the right direction
for the space program.
I was in flying school in 1957, and I’d just soloed in October
when they launched the Sputnik. And, you know, beginning of the space
age. And 4 years later, of course, [Yuri A.] Gagarin and then [Alan
B.] Shepard [Jr.] went up, and I was still a lieutenant in Germany
in a fighter squadron, and began to dream at that point about, you
know, “Maybe this career I’m on, if I set the right goals,
I could be an astronaut one day.” And so that’s what happened.
Ward: Well, you kind of had the pattern of other astronauts by that
you could see what constituted getting selected.
I knew I needed graduate school, which I volunteered to go back to
school. And the Air Force sent me to MIT [Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts]. And then I had—
you do that consciously to prepare yourself as an astronaut?
not for the astronaut—I did it consciously for my career. It
was a goal in my career. Back in those days, the Air Force was really
seeking, you know, advanced education as a prerequisite for promotion
and stuff. And so I just knew that that was really what [I really
needed to do, but] I didn’t want to leave the cockpit, because
I loved to fly. But I knew that that was necessary for me to make
a step in my career. And so that’s why I really volunteered.
Not specifically to focus on the space program. It was only after
MIT when I realized, you know, “I got this engineering degree,
but, man, I really miss flying. What should I do?” And the next
logical step was [Air Force] Test Pilot School [Edwards Air Force
And so I volunteered and went to work out—went to school out
there in ’64. Graduated in ’65, and 2 months later there
was an ad in the paper that said, “NASA’s looking for
more astronauts,” you know, “Please apply.” And
so a bunch of us from Edwards applied.
you do that consciously as a group? I mean, did you kind of get together
amongst yourselves and say, “Let’s do this?” or
did you do it more individually?
Duke: It was
individually for me. There—well, there were a few of us in our
Test Pilot School class. We’d just graduated, and [there] was
a real decision. The MOL [Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory] Program
was selecting astronauts.
the Air Force Manned Orbiting Lab.
was the Air Force Manned Orbiting Lab. And then—and NASA was
selecting. Well I went to my boss, a deputy commandant of the Test
that at Edwards?
Duke: At Edwards.
His name was Buck Buchanan. And said, “Sir, you know if I would
like to apply. What do I do?” He said, “Well, I don’t
know, but we’ll find out.” And then a couple of days later
he came back and said, “You guys, if y’all apply, you
can apply for NASA, you can apply for MOL, you can apply for both.
But if you apply for both, I guarantee you we going to pick you for
MOL and not let NASA have y’all.” And there was two or
three of us in that category.
So the Air Force didn’t have very good luck with the—or
history with manned flights in space. And so I decided that I’d
volunteer only for NASA, which I did. And fortunately got selected.
But then after I got my process started, it was sort of, you know,
“Who—are you going? Are you going?” and so it—just
sort of word of mouth among the test pilot corps at Edwards, and it
turned out 8 or 9 of us had applied.
Ward: So you
all had a pretty good idea of who among your colleagues were also
Yeah. We did. We were hoping that we would all get selected, and a
lot of us did from my Test Pilot School class. It ended up Stu [Stuart
A.] Roosa and myself, Al [Alfred M.] Worden, later on Hank [Henry
W.] Hartsfield [Jr.] was in our class (he came in)—
Ward: He was
from the MOL.
MOL. Then, gosh, Ken [Thomas K.] Mattingly [II] had got—he was
a class or two behind us. Ed [Edgar D.] Mitchell. So in our group
of 19, there were a lot of us that were at Edwards—either in
Test Pilot School or had just graduated—that got picked. Joe
[H.] Engle. He was probably the most experienced of us, of the bunch,
because he was already flying X-15 and really had his astronaut wings
at that point. But because he’d flown X-15 up to, I don’t
know, a jillion miles or whatever it was, you know.
you were one of—I think it may have been more common at that
time than it is now, but one of the Naval Academy graduates who went
into the Air Force.
does that work?
back in those days there wasn’t a Air Force Academy. Their first
class was 1959, so they would allow (“they” being the
Defense Department)—allowed 25% of West Point and Annapolis
to volunteer for the Air Force. So the Air Force was basically culling
out their regular officer corps from West Point and Annapolis. So
starting in the early ’50s, you know, [Thomas P.] Stafford and
(let’s see) Bill [William A.] Anders and a few others—Mike
[Michael] Collins was a West Pointer. But it—well, he was a
West Pointer on that side. He did it on that side.
Anyway, we could volunteer. So before we graduated, we said, “Well,
we’d volunteer for the Air Force.” And I’d fallen
in love with airplanes at the Naval Academy rather than ships; and
I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The airplanes I thought were
better. You could stay in the cockpit longer in those days. And so
there was some number of reasons that I wanted to go in the Air Force.
did you get hooked on airplanes?
Duke: My first
recollection of flight was back in the early ’50s. I was with
a friend, and he had his—we’d just gotten our driver’s
license. And we were driving along. He had a little old convertible.
And I looked up in—one afternoon and there was a contrail going
over. And—early days of jets, you didn’t see many contrails
back then. And I said, you know, “Gosh, it’d be nice to
make a contrail. I wonder what that’d be like?” And I
started dreaming about flying airplanes then. I went on to the Naval
Academy. They gave me a couple of rides in a open-cockpit, bi-wing
seaplane called the N3N Yellow Peril. And I was hooked from that moment
I got seasick, but I never got airsick. And maybe that’s one—another
reason that I decided to go [laughs], because I really did get seasick.
But I never did get—never did get airsick.
was the—getting back to the astronaut selection process and
after you’d applied, you started moving through the process,
the physicals and all of that. You get down to the final interview.
Do you remember who participated in that?
I do. I remember three, no, four. There was John [W.] Young, who I
ended up, you know, on the Moon with, and Mike Collins, Deke [Donald
K.] Slayton, Warren [J.] North, were the four that I remember that
were on that committee. I don’t remember the nature of the interview.
It was more a get-to-know-you type of—kind of guy, motivation,
you know: “What’s your motivation?” Because they
had our backgrounds. They knew—
Ward: By that
time, they had pretty well ascertained that you were qualified.
just wanted to get your personality.
we’d gone through the physicals and everybody—nobody had
any problem with physical. And, you know, we’d taken some preliminary
test. But with a master’s degree and all, we were—you
know, I knew we were in the running, those of us who had that kind
of background. But I just, you know, hopefully you didn’t say
the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. Had to be excited. And we were.
I was really getting pumped up by then. I really wanted to get picked.
you have the impression at that point that—to the extent to
which public relations would be a prerequisite for the job?
I didn’t. I—
Duke: I knew
that—Well, I didn’t perceive that that would be part of
my job. I perceived that they were certainly in the limelight, the
original guys and the astronauts who’d been selected. Gemini
was going on and I knew that they were in the limelight. But I never
realized that there was a big part of the job, that while you weren’t
flying, that it was part of the job was going out and, you know, and
garnering support for the space program. It turned out I ended up
liking that, and I enjoyed my week in the barrel or whatever it was
back in those days. And—but, I didn’t realize that was
going to part of it when I started.
Ward: So they
really weren’t as up front about as they might’ve been.
It was something that—I’m not sure anybody would’ve
turned it down because they had to go out and make a speech. But,
you know, it just turned out some people are more comfortable doing
that than others. And I love to meet people, and I love to—well,
you know, when your heart’s in something, you can make a you
can really talk about it and be sincere. And that’s where we
Ward: I think
it may in part because, as a group of people, the astronauts have
always been very adept at meeting people, giving speeches, being spokesmen
for the program. But I think the public perceives that NASA selects
them with that as a prerequisite. And, I wonder what it is that makes
them all so adept at that if they’re not consciously selected
I—again, I think it’s something that is there that comes
out because you really love the program. You really support—the—to
me the space program is very, very important for our country. I still,
you know, 20-something years later, Apollo’s long gone, I’ve
been out of the program now since 1976, but I still love the program.
And I think what we’re doing is important for our nation. It’s—like
[NASA Administrator Daniel S.] Goldin says, it’s an investment
in our future. And that was—that’s been my line the whole
time is, we’re—and when you believe that then you want
to profess that. And that’s been something that’s, I think,
in most of us; and that’s why we do it.
Getting back to Slayton and Shepard. How did you perceive, at that
time, the relationship between the two of them? Shepard, of course,
worked for Slayton; but they were, to most of us, very close.
Duke: I sensed
it was a close relationship. Of course, I was in awe when we got here,
you know. Gosh, here’s Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton, you know,
and Wally [Walter M.] Schirra [Jr.], and all those famous astronauts
who I just admired and looked up to for years then. And so I sensed
that Shepard and Deke and that whole group were real close; and their
working relationship, which I didn’t quite understand in those
days, was very tight. I didn’t see any competition. One was
above the other. I didn’t sense that—
Ward: It was
Duke: It was
a collegial. More of that.
Ward: Do you
think that whatever criteria Deke and Al used in selecting crews was
a fair and effective—? And did you ever sort out what that criteria
Duke: I never
sorted that out. [laughs] I’ve been asked that many, many times.
“How did you get picked?” I said, “I don’t
know.” Even to this day, I’m not sure how the crews were
selected. I got a inkling that Deke and Al sat down and said, “Okay,
who’s going to be the next commander?” And, “Okay,
it’s John Young.” And John Young gets called in. And John
Young says—well, Deke says, “Well, here are the guys that
we could—we think we ought to fly. But who do you think?”
And so in some way, that process got selected and then it went up
to the directorate, from there to [NASA Headquarters in] Washington
[DC]. And I don’t know of any time it was ever overruled. And
it is a mystery to me, you know. There was no “Check out the
squares,” you know, “Fill this board of squares,”
you know, “Do this task,” “Do that run,” “Do
this thing.” And you get all these squares filled and you’re
going to get a flight. We didn’t have any of that. It was just,
“Do your job.”
When we first got here, of course, we started training. Geology, which
was—that was important I think. Everybody, not knowing who was
going to fly—everybody did geology. And, then we did spacecraft
systems for 4 or 5 months. And then everybody got assigned to some
sort of little engineering oversight job. I remember Stu Roosa and
I got assigned to Frank [F.] Borman, who was sort of Head of the Propulsion
System, the—side of the Astronaut Office. These things were
all sort of unofficial, I think, as far as organization within the
Office. But that was where you concentrated your effort.
And so, on behalf of the Astronaut Office, you support—you went
to design reviews on the Saturn or the engines or, you know, the guidance
system or—which took us to [George C.] Marshall [Space Flight
Center, Huntsville, Alabama] a lot and to [John F.] Kennedy [Space
Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida] a lot. And all of those things that
were involved in that. I remember we went to Ames [Research Center,
Moffett Field, California] a couple of times to try to, “Can
you fly the Saturn V in orbit manually?” And so they had—Ames
had a program and some sort of simulator that—Stu and I went
out there and we could fly the Saturn V into orbit from the pad. And—
was using the guidance system—
guide—the IU [Instrument Unit], yeah. There was a program in
the guidance system in the Saturn in the instrument unit; and it was
connected through some software prop—way that I don’t
recall to the controller in the command module. And so the commander
could sit there and, with the eight ball, fly this thing into orbit
like you do an instrument landing system in an airplane. And we showed
that we could do that. They never implemented it. But in the program.
We never had that capability, at least not in first stage. But in
second and third stage, we had that ability. It was incorporated into
the software. I could—
Ward: So you
could override the Saturn instrument unit—
if it failed.
let the space—
if the guidance system failed for some reason, you could then utilize
the instrument unit—the INS [Inertial Navigation System] in
the command module to guide you. It would track, and then you would
fly that and you could wiggle the engines back there on the—
in a way that was kind of presaging the Shuttle Program, because—
exactly the way the Shuttle operates—
ever used it, of course. We never had to take over. But we felt like
we could do it.
on Apollo 12, it was probably fortunate that the system didn’t
work that way. When they were struck by lightning.
it wouldn’t have worked there because they lost their guidance—they
lost everything in the command module. The instrument unit stayed—
kept going, and that’s what saved them of course.
Duke: I mean,
to me that Pete [Charles C.] Conrad [Jr.] didn’t rotate that
handle to abort that spacecraft when everything went zap is remarkable.
I think they had a parallel situation in Mission Control, where the
responsible flight controller didn’t call for an abort either—
recognized that they might be able to salvage the situation. I think
Apollo 12, sort of in my recollection, was the only launch vehicle
ever to get struck by lightning that survived it.
It was—I mean, I watched it disappear in those clouds, you know,
and then there was this flash. And it was—
you at the Cape?
Duke: I was
at the Cape, yeah, watching. And, you know, we didn’t have any
idea what had gone on. But then I listened to the tape—the transcript
and Pete’s just rattling off all this—all these problems
we’ve got in this thing. And the thing’s falling apart,
you know! And golly! And that they got it all back on board, I believe
it was so overwhelming that they— “Maybe we’d better
sit here and figure out what happened.” And by the time they
did that, it was—the thing was fly—still flying and—
the crew seemed to sense before anybody else did that lightning was
Ward: I think
the ground was a little incredulous that that might’ve been
what was going on.
you sure—I know in an airplane, I’ve been struck by lightning
in an airplane a number of times, and there’s no doubt when
that happens. Man, I mean, it just, zap! And it’s a flash all
around you. Fortunately nothing ever—usually nothing ever happens
in an airplane. But—
they even lost their cockpit lights—
a time, didn’t they? And went dark.
Apparently, and, of course, they had only one window at the time,
you know. The hatch window’s the only one uncovered. And so
there was just that little light coming in through that hatch window.
So it must’ve been a
was your assignment on Apollo 12?
Duke: I wasn’t
really assigned to that flight. I had been working on Apollo—by
that time, I was backup on 13. So I was training on 13. So I was not
involved officially in Apollo 12.
I’d been support crew for Apollo 10, and helped develop the
lunar module procedures during that time for activation and checkout.
So I was a Capcom [capsule communicator], —support crew during
the training, and then for the flight was Capcom for the lunar orbit
stuff and the activation and checkout and the rendezvous on Apollo
10. And as a result of that, I probably had the most experience of
any of the astronauts that was not on a crew in the lunar module.
And so I ended up on Capcom and doing the same job on Apollo 11.
[Neil A.] Armstrong have a vote in that?
he did, yeah. Neil had come and said, “Charlie,” (I believe
it was Neil and Buzz [Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.], and maybe just Neil),
he’d come and said, “You know, we’d like you to
do activation and checkout for us for the landing.” And I said,
“Man, that’d be a great honor. I’d love to do it.”
And of course, that’s what I did.
in recent years (and I suspect was the case then), really wasn’t
the normal rotation. You wouldn’t normally go as a Capcom from
one flight right into the next, would you?
That wasn’t—normally, you know, support crew, then you
went into maybe a backup crew and then on into a flight crew. So about
every three flights, you had some progression, hopefully. And that’s
what happened for me. From 10 to 13 to 16, really, was that prime
way it went for me; and it just turned out that I went—we didn’t
get really on the backup crew until after 11. I think they didn’t
announce that crew until after 11, so then I went on to that. So that’s
how I ended up at Capcom for Neil and Buzz for the landing.
Prior to that, I had, in my engineering stuff, I had taken over the
lunar module engine oversight. The descent stage engine was doing
really well, but the ascent engine was in trouble. This was like in
the early [‘70s]. They were trying to qualify it, and they were
having some instability in the engine. And that’s a critical
engine. I mean, if it didn’t work, you were going to either
crash on the Moon or [be] trapped on the Moon.
Ward: It was
kind of like the service module engine in the command module. It just
had to work.
Duke: It had
just had to work.
it had to be a very simple, robust system.
so, George [M.] Low, who was Apollo Program Manager at the time, he
organized this committee or team to decide what we were going to do.
I mean, would we get this thing qualified, or should we have a parallel
development? And, it was mostly the Propulsion guys in Max [Maxime
A.] Faget’s division but—who was the Engineering Directorate.
But then I was on the team from the—to represent the Astronaut
Office. And a few others, I think.
Anyway, that—we met for a couple of months and visited with
various contractors. We listened to proposals from Bell [Aerosystems
Corp.] about how they were going to fix theirs, and we went to Rocketdyne
[Division, North American Aviation, Inc.] and they said, “Well,
we could do it.” And it ended up, after about (don’t hold
me to this but—about the timeline) but like 6 months later,
we decided that we would—had this big meeting with Low. And
there was a big vote. “What are we going to do?” And I
remember everybody sort of looked at me: “What does the crew
want to do?” you know. And it was, “Well, I think we ought
to go with a new contractor.” And we’d been parallel this
time; and so Rocketdyne was selected and just within months, they
had their engine qualified. And it turned out it was a great engine
changed horses in midstream. Went from Bell to Rocketdyne.
was really that close to a launch, you know. We were like—it
was beginning to impact the schedule because Apollo—you know,
[President John F.] Kennedy said, “Land by the end of the decade,”
and now we’re at late ’68. The first lunar—hadn’t
even flown a lunar module. We need to get it up with Apollo 9; it’s
coming up in a month or two. And so, first time we were going to fire
those engines and so it was a critical time, and that was a big decision
because, to change a contractor that close in and start really—and
not a new development, because we were able to use the injector was
really I think the problem with this engine. And anyway, we did it
and I thought it was a bold move by Low. And—
that part of the problem that kept the lunar module from being ready
for Apollo 8? Which was why Apollo 8—
Duke: I don’t
remember exactly. Probably. I would imagine that was some reason.
It did—but it wasn’t ready to go. I we knew that. And
so, it could have been other reasons, but I don’t remember the
details of that, Doug.
in any event, your lunar module expertise had a lot to do with Neil
and the crew—
you to work their flight.
especially the Apollo 10 part—side of it, you know. And that—I
mean, it was a great honor and a great thrill to have been in Mission
Control when the landing occurred. It was a—I don’t know
whether you were there or not. You were probably there, too. And,
the tension in Mission Control during that last minute of the descent
the thought crossed your mind that you may be remembered as much in
history for your role on Apollo 11 as for your own lunar landing?
more so. Yeah, it has. And that’s okay. You know, I was just
pleased to have been part of that team. You know, Doug, to me the
Mission—I loved the Mission Control team. I thought we had the
greatest bunch of guys and gals in that Mission Control that were
dedicated, young, but experienced; and it was great working with them.
All the flight directors that I worked with, we all hit it off really
well. And [they were] very confident, very cool, in all of the problems
that we experienced.
that’s interesting. Because it really wasn’t always that
way. If you go back and talk to some of the early groups, there were
some almost pitched battles, as I understand it, between the astronaut
representatives who were sent out to the remote sites, between, in
effect, Deke’s guys and Chris’s [Christopher C. Kraft]
to who was going to be in charge. And it’s pretty clear that,
through Mercury and Gemini, all that got sorted out; and it really
was a nicely functioning team by the time you guys got into Apollo.
I’m sure it was. And I’d heard some of those stories.
But I never experienced that. By the time I got there, Apollo 10,
I had done one of the trench jobs. I remember then in the Gemini,
they had an astronaut and also a Capcom that was an astronaut also
in the booster position. And I did that on Apollo—not Apollo
but Gemini XI and XII, maybe. And you know I really didn’t know
what I was doing out there, but that’s where I was. And—but
even then, I felt a smooth-running teamwork had evolved into the Mission
Control, and there wasn’t any of that “I’m in charge
here” dynamics. It was all really, really well. I—
Ward: It certainly
gave you a lot more confidence when you had to rely on the judgments
of the ground and you were the one in flight.
Which we did. You know, we had—on Apollo 16, an hour before
we were to land on the Moon, we were on the backside of the Moon and
Ken, in the command module, had to burn the SPS [Service Propulsion
System] to boost his orbit up. So—
was after the lunar module had separated?
we were separated. We were a mile or two apart. And John—we
were within an hour of landing. We—the next half rev around,
we were going to start our descent. And on the backside, he [Mattingly]
was to boost up to a 60 circular orbit so that we could have the right
phasing for the rendezvous if we had to abort. Well, he reports a
real problem in the engine. The reaction—not the reaction control,
but the control system when he powered it up, the secondary, it wouldn’t
stabilize the engine and it was wiggling back there. And he thought
that the thing was going to shake him apart. So John says, “Don’t
So, I mean, our hearts sank. If your heart can sink to the bottom
of your boots in zero gravity ours did, because it was—I mean,
there we were, you know, 2 years of training, 240,000 miles away,
an hour before the landing on a orbit you can look down at your landing
site, 8 miles beneath you, and they’re about to tell you to
come home. And that’s what we thought was going to happen because
it was, according to Mission Rules, abort. So we came around, reported
no circularization burn. And they said, “Roger, stand by. Start
getting back together.” And so we started a slow rendezvous,
thinking that that was it, you know. And—but, they said, “We’ll
look at it.”
And I don’t know all the dynamics that went up—which went
on in Mission Control, but 4 hours later, after a couple of more revs,
they kept briefing us and say, “Well, we think we’ve isolating
the problem. And we think we can work around it” and this and
that and the other, “but we don’t know yet.” And
later on, I get back and the—saw a video that they’d taken
at Mission Control, and I can remember Chris Kraft sitting there,
scratching his hand, and said, “Give—let them have at
it.” And he said, “Go,” and so they—Jim [James
B.] Irwin said, “We’re go for this attempt,” the
second time around.
was your Capcom.
Duke: He was
the Capcom, yeah. He’d been on 15 and was the Capcom. So they
figured out, from Mission Control—we didn’t know what
was wrong. But they figured it out, you know. And that’s—and
then—then at that point in our flight, in Apollo, to have management
say, “Yes,” to a landing I thought was really tremendous,
because, you know, it would have been a lot easier to say, “Well,
come on home, you guys.”
know, “We don’t want to risk it.” You know, “We’ve
done it before, and—” but to let us go ahead and land
was really terrific, and thanks to Mission Control. And you—almost
every flight, you could see that Mission Control team had a great
hand in either the rescue or continue the mission or overcome some
problem that we didn’t have a clue of what it was in the cockpit.
And you couldn’t possibly have the network of support that they
they assembled, yeah.
Duke: I mean,
all over the country, just instantly. You know, Apollo 11 with the
computer alarms on the descent that we had. I mean, 1202 or whatever
it was, you know, and I—, “What is that?” Well Steve
Bales knew. And, man, just like that, we’re go for it.
Ward: I was
going to ask you about that because there were a couple of problems
on that descent that, as I recall, were pretty unnerving. One was
the continual communications dropouts and telemetry dropouts with
the lunar module. And of course the other was the computer alarms.
At the time, do you remember which of those or other problems were
uppermost in your mind?
Communication dropouts were a nuisance more than a danger, but a computer
problem was a showstopper. And we didn’t—I mean I vaguely
remember seeing—reading something about twelve-oh (whatever
those alarms were), 1201, 1202, I didn’t really know the consequences
of those alarms. And, you know, you didn’t have time to break
out your G&N [guidance and navigation] checklist to go to the
emergency procedures and find out what that was. But fortunately,
Steve and those guys on [the] G&N console knew. But to me that
was the most critical.
later on, the most critical was, of course, the fuel state. We didn’t
quite have the tracking right, if you remember, in those days. We
didn’t quite understand what the mascons [mass concentrations]—the
gravity anomalies were on the Moon, and so we were a little off in
position. And so when they pitched over to look at the lunar surface,
they didn’t recognize anything and they were going into this
big boulder field and Neil was flying a trajectory that we’d
never flown in the simulator or, you know, in our integrated sims
[simulations] with Mission Control; it was something we’d never
seen. And, you know, we kept trying to figure out, “What was
this going? What’s going on?” You know, “He’s
just whizzing across the surface at about 400 feet,” and all
of a sudden he—the thing rears back and he slows it down and
then comes down. And I’m sitting there, sweating out—
could see all that from the telemetry—
we could see—
you knew how to read it.
we could see all of that. I had that plot on my screen, and, of course,
I was watching fuel state too along with the Propulsion guys. And
(I forgot who that was now), but anyway, we were getting real critical
fuel-wise. And, so I remember I was sort of giving them this running
commentary. We were down to, like, the last couple of minutes; and
Deke Slayton is sitting to my right, you know. We were glued to that
screen, and I’m just talking and talking and telling them all
this stuff. And Deke, I remember, punches me in the side and says,
“Charlie, shut up. Let them land.” [laughs] “Yes,
sir, boss.” So I got real quiet, and the tension began to rise
in Mission Control. And I remember giving them—we had a 60-second
was 60 seconds to abort. Is that it?
right. It was—when I—when Mission Control said, “60
seconds,” it meant you had 60 seconds to get on the ground.
And the problem was fuel. If you didn’t—we wanted enough
fuel remaining in the descent engine that when he throttled up, he
would get a positive rate of climb and start up before we had to abort
stage, because that was a critical deal.
didn’t want the ascent engine to have to overcome—
Duke: A descent—
descent rate and also getting them going up again.
wanted the descent engine to have enough propellant to do that.
So there was a little margin. But we’d had, at some level, 60
seconds came. And then the next call was “30 seconds.”
And so I called, “60,” and they were still in the air.
And I called, “30,” and, “Man, it’s getting
close.” And then, of course, the dust was flying. And then I
heard, “Contact. Engine stop,” and I knew we were on the
was after the 30-second call?
the 30 seconds, right, Doug. And so, later on, you look at the data
and it was between 7 and 17 seconds’ fuel remain. I had 17 seconds
remaining on my watch.
was 17 seconds remaining before you would have had to make that abort.
I would’ve had to abort. Now, but Neil—
had some more of that—more than that in reserve.
you can’t use that.
Now whether Neil would actually have aborted or not, I don’t
know. Had I been the commander and I was within the dust and, you
know, if somebody even called “Abort,” you know, and you
were 10 feet off the ground, what were you going to do? Well, I’d
have probably landed. But, I mean, that—you know, he’s
And, but anyway, we landed before the 30 seconds were up. And, of
course, everybody erupted in Mission Control and—as you know,
and then his famous lines about, “Houston. Tranquility Base
here. The Eagle has landed.” And so we made it, you know, and
it was really a great release. People cheering, as you remember, and
Chris Kraft got—I mean—Chris—Gene [Eugene F.] Kranz
got us all back to work because, at that point, we had to make sure
this thing was safe, that we didn’t leak anything and if we
had to, we could lift off again quickly in an emergency.
comment at that point was obviously very spontaneous.
Duke: It was.
I was so excited, I couldn’t get out “Tranquility Base.”
It came out sort of like “Twangquility,” you know. And
so it was, “Roger, Houston. Twangquility Base here.” Let’s
see, what did I say? No, it was, “Roger, Twangquility Base.
We copy you down. We’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.
But we’re breathing again.” And I believe that’s
true—was a true statement. It was spontaneous, but it was true.
I mean, we were—I was holding my breath, you know, because we
Getting back to the simulators on that. One of the things that I’ve
been told is that almost invariably the commanders in landing on the
Moon and in landing the lunar landing training vehicle tended to use
a lot more propellant and take it down a lot closer to the wire than
they did when they were in the lunar module simulator. I don’t
know if that was your experience—or not.
I didn’t get to fly the lunar lander, the rocket one that we
had out here at—or jet engine, whatever it was—
lunar lander trainer [lunar landing training vehicle].
here at Ellington [Air Force Base]. After Neil Armstrong ejected from
that one that went out of control, they only let the commanders fly
that thing. So, I didn’t get to fly it.
Ward: I think
that was generally viewed as probably one of the most dangerous parts
or even landing on the Moon—
flying that training vehicle.
Duke: Oh yeah.
Ward: As I
recall, that had a jet engine that took out, what? Five-sixths of
the Earth’s gravity—
then used lunar-like—lunar module-like thrusters to give you
the rest of the one-sixth—
it was like landing on the Moon.
And so, we had something that was similar to that up at Langley [Research
Center, Hampton, Virginia], but it was on a wire and you slid down
this wire at sort of one-sixth type stuff. And I did fly that, but
it wasn’t very good. I thought the simulator was a lot better.
The only thing with the simulator was, [it was] bolted to the floor
so it didn’t give you the motions cues that you had in flight.
But other than that, it was—the simulator was really, really
good. And I believe you’re right. We tended to—in the
simulations, you tended to be a little bit more cautious than the
For some reason, when we came down to land, John just continued right
straight on down and we were basically in a constant descent of some
rate throughout our landing. And I remember at about 20 feet, he did
level off, and we just sort of stopped. And I remember saying, “Okay,
John, you’ve leveled off. Let her on down.” And I was
sort of feeding him the information that he needed for the velocity
and the control and the rate of descent. And after a second or two
of hover, we began to just sink down about 1 or 2 feet a second, and
touched down with plenty of fuel for us. Of course, that’s a
function of experience, Doug.
know, we were the fifth landing. And everybody else had done it, and
we knew—we just—you just—while you’d never
done it yourself before, everybody else had done it, and you just—that
glean that experience from the briefings and the debriefings and talking
to guys and—about it. And so we felt real confident, when we
were there, that we were going to have plenty of gas.
Ward: Of course
by the second mission, Pete Conrad was able to set down real—very
close to the planned landing site. Right next to Surveyor.
we’d figured out the mascon [mass concentration]—the gravity
anomaly deal and so we were able to track and tell the computer accurately
where it was and where it wanted to go. And so that guidance system
would take you right down if you gave it the right information. It
was a good system.
mascon as I—problem, as I recall, was the fact the Moon isn’t
of consistent mass. It has concentrations like raisins in a cookie—
affect the gravitational pull on a vehicle like the lunar module and
affects the trajectory.
right. And so as you go over one of these, it sort of pulls you down.
More gravity, and you sort of start going in an orbit like this and
as you go down, it slows you down and so—or speeds you up, one
or the other. And anyway, you end up—you end up not being where
we think we were as we project 2 to 3 revs [revolutions] later on
down. So we had to figure that out.
And that got worked out—
well after Apollo 11.
of the things that struck me, I don’t know if you remember it
as clearly, is the reaction at Mission Control during the simulations
for the lunar landing, when they finally got all of the final guidance
software in from MIT and had the actual program that was going to
be used for landing on the Moon. Do you remember that first landing
simulation with Buzz and Neil in the simulator and the actual team
in Mission Control that was going to do it? And the emotion and the
reaction when you actually simulated a highly realistic first landing
with the actual software?
Duke: I was
there, but I don’t remember the details of it, no. I’m
one of those things that gets away after 27—
27 years. On your mission, of course on all the lunar missions, one
of the things in the lunar module simulator that people today would
probably find a little incredulous is that you didn’t use computers
to generate the television views out the window. You had a big plot
board—a big board adjacent to the simulator, where the lunar
surface itself was actually mocked up in all the detail that the scientists
correct. Yeah. Our landing site was selected by the site selection
committee of scientists in various disciplines; and it had been selected
from photographs taken on Apollo 14. Stu Roosa had—as he orbited,
he had a mapping camera. And their orbit took them over the Descartes
highlands. And so, it was decided that we would go land there. And
so they took some of his photographs and made a mockup of our landing
site, once they selected which it—where it was. And it turned
out that the photographs had a resolution of about 15 meters. In other
words, anything less than 45 feet in diameter, you couldn’t
see in the photograph. But the major features, you could see. And
so they modeled that into—they built that into the model. And
they put this model on this big board, and there was a TV camera that
ran a—ran on a track above here, and so that was the view you
had in your window, was this TV—
Ward: As you
were simulating a landing.
Yeah. As you simulated a landing. And so, I mean, thousands of times
John and I, you know, came in for landing and we’d pitch over
and recognize—one crater we called—had called “Gator,”
one was called “Lone Star.” I could look out the right
window of the simulator, my right side, to the north and see North
Ray Crater up there and John could look out his side and see the Stone
Mountain down to the left. Names that we had give these prominent
features in our landing site. And when we really did it for the first
time, I mean for real, in flight, as you recall the lunar module trajectory
was such you came down—our attitude was such you came down—the
first 7 or 8 minutes of the descent was with the window pointed out
at space. And you couldn’t see the lunar surface.
Ward: So you’d
keep the engine in front of you, slowing down.
So you were slowing down. Now you could’ve rolled over 180 degrees
to put the windows down, but that was a problem with communications.
So we chose to land—or start down with the windows pointed out
to space and just depend on the landing radar to update us and to
bring us in. So at 7000 feet, the guidance program maneuvered the
vehicle to windows forward down, and (Excuse me)—and so out
the window for the very first time, at 7000 feet, you saw the lunar
surface. Well, I mean it looked exactly like the mockup.
I mean, there we were. “John, there it is!” you know,
“There’s Gator. There’s Lone Star.” And we’d
had some debate about getting up to this objective, North Ray Crater,
during the training because, in the photographs, it looked really
rough. And so, I looked out the window and looked north, and I said,
“John, I can see North Ray. It’s smooth up there. We’re
going to be able to make it.” And about that, I’m just
out the window, and John says, “Give me some information, Charlie.”
And so I get back in and start helping him land, because we’ve
got to pick out a landing spot.
Before the mission, 4 or 5 (let’s see), about 3 months before
the mission, I’d had this dream about John and I driving the
rover up to the North Ray Crater and we came over one of the little
ridges, and there’s a set of tracks in front of us. And it’s
rover tracks! Well, gosh, you know, we reported—this was all
in the dream. And, you know, we reported to Mission Control. We started
following these tracks. Well that dream was so real that one of the
things, when I wanted to look north, was to see if I could see that
set of tracks.
of course there wasn’t any set of tracks. But, anyway, I did
figure out, as I looked north, that the surface wasn’t as rough
as we expected. So we ended up maneuvering, and John was—by
the time we were like 300 feet above the surface, he was fully in—fully
Now a lunar module had dual controls like an airplane. The commander
was on the left side, like the captain of the airplane. I was on the
right side, like the copilot. And I had my throttle and control stick.
Ward: Of course
you’re not seated. You’re standing.
standing. We were anchored to the floor by a set of cables. The—as
you stood there, you—in front of your position, there was a
window here. I had a little abort guidance computer with some other
switches. The main instrument panel was in between us in the center
and the computer—main computer was in this point. And so I’m
standing, and we have these cables that pull up, and they’re
bungee-type things. And you could hook on and anchor you on the floor.
And that was necessary because, if something went wrong and the thing
started rolling rapidly, you wanted to be anchored—
Ward: I guess
you couldn’t afford the weight of seats.
And there was no room, really, for seats. You really didn’t
need any in weightlessness or in zero—in one-sixth gravity.
So anyway, we had trained that John would land and I would provide
him all this information, help him down to land it. And if we had
any emergencies during the final stages of descent, I would handle
that because I could reach over behind him and pull circuit breakers,
and I could reach all the switches that was necessary to overcome
any emergency. And so we did that. That was the way we had trained.
But if he had a problem with his control stick or throttle, I’d
take over and he’d perform the secondary role.
Well, it turned out everything worked right, and so I fed him the
information he needed to make this landing and kept everything running
right. And so he did the actual landing, and it—a great job.
A great Navy landing. We hit solid and stable. And we’d picked
out a great spot. It was—the lunar module would land on a 10-degree
slope; but if you did, it was tough working around on a 10-degree
slope because if it was like this, the experiments were around at
the back of the lunar module, and that meant it was above my reach.
Because I was standing downhill trying to reach up. And I—we
couldn’t have done some of the experiments. But it turned out
we were within 1 degree of level, and so we were able to work around
the lunar module.
you kick up the amount of dust that Neil and Buzz did on the first
hard to say how—we did have a lot of dust. In a comparative
sense, I don’t—I would imagine it was about the same,
even though our landing site was considerably higher in elevation
than theirs and in a different textural context of the Moon as far
as the geology went. The dust was probably the same. I remember we
almost had the surface obscured at about 20 feet. When we leveled
off at 20 feet, I remember looking out and I—you really couldn’t
see through the dust that was being blasted away.
But we had selected what we thought was a good landing spot. No major
craters, and so we landed. And it turned out, though, that when we
got out the next day for our first EVA [extravehicular activity] and
we went around—and I went around to retrieve the Apollo lunar
surface experiments package, which was called the ALSEP, there was
a big crater about 2 meters behind us that we hadn’t even seen.
And if we’d have landed like 3 meters back to the east, we’d
have been—had one—the back leg in that crater. And—
it deep enough to have tipped you over?
Duke: It would
have been very—probably not. But—at least on that part
of it. I mean, if you’d gone back another 6 meters—I mean,
this was a pretty big crater and it tendered out maybe 15 feet deep
or so, if I remember. On the edge of it, you’d have—it
would have just been hard to work because I’d have been standing
downhill in the crater trying to get this ALSEP out. It turned out
we’d missed it by just—but we hadn’t seen it. It
was amazing how things like that were sort of camouflaged. Without
the right lighting conditions, you missed—you could miss some
of these subtle features.
the Moon’s surface had some unusual reflectivity characteristics
that I guess accounted for why you wanted to land with the Sun relatively
Duke: We felt
like with the Sun low on the horizon, it would give us long shadows.
And generally that was—was very helpful. You realized if you
were landing on a slope that was very bright, it meant it was tilted
towards you. If it was very dark, it was tilted away from you because
you were in the shadows—getting into the shadow side. And so
we tried to pick a spot that was sort of an average brightness. (That’s
not the right term.) But—
not really bright. Not really dark.
Sort of average. And without any major rocks, boulders there. And
so—and also, you used the shadow of the lunar module to judge
altitude. For instance, if you lost the landing radar at the last
200 feet, the shadow is—as you got closer, the shadow came in
and you could use the shadow to give you some sense of altitude; and
so it was very important that we land with a very low Sun angle. Not
only because of the temperature of the lunar surface, but also of
this landing aid that we needed.
are you guys doing on the tape?
Voice Off Camera: We’re almost done. We need to stop it.
Ward: Do you
want to take a little break?
Voice Off Camera: And you’re recording.
one of the things we haven’t touched on in detail is—before
we continue on with Apollo 16 (your mission) is your role on Apollo
13. One of my favorite political cartoons from that era (I think it
was a Bill Mauldin cartoon), where it showed three very glum Apollo
13 astronauts sitting in their suits, getting ready for launch, with
their helmets off, covered with the measles.
one of them looked at the others and said, “Well, at least,
on the bright side—at least none of us is pregnant.”
Ward: Of course
you had a pretty direct role in that episode.
the infamous measles.
Ward: I wanted
to get your recollections of how all that came to pass.
you know, it’s—I was backup for the—on Apollo 13.
I was the lunar module backup to Fred [W.] Haise [Jr.]. John Young
and Jack [John L.] Swigert and I were the backup crew. And of course
in those days, you had two crews for each mission and you trained
in parallel so that the backup crew could take your place if something
happened to the prime crew. And the thought was that, you know, they
might have an accident or they could get sick or something like that,
and then you’d have a replacement for them. You wouldn’t
have to abort the mission.
So about, I guess, 2 weeks or 3 weeks before flight, our son Tom was
(let’s see now, that would be 1970)—he was 3. And he had
a little friend named Paul House and—who was the son of some
good friends of ours down in Houston. An architect. And so we were
off for the weekend with the Houses. And sure enough, we came back
a week later and Suzanne House called and said, “Paul has got
the measles.” I said, “Oh Lord.” And anyway, I caught
the measles from Paul, this little 3 year old.
And so I’m in—and I’m down there training in all
this time, and then, so I break out with the measles down there and,
of course, go to the doctor because I’m pretty sick. And they
get all excited, of course. (I forgot who the flight surgeon was down
there.) But anyway, he gets all excited and starts testing everybody,
you know, a couple of weeks before the flight. And maybe it was 10
days before. Well, everybody had had the measles except for Mattingly.
So [James A.] Lovell [Jr.] and Haise were immune, but Mattingly wasn’t.
So there was the big debate, you know: “What are we going to
do?” And so finally the decision was made, “Take Mattingly
off. Put in Jack Swigert.” And they could launch if they thought
they were able to do that.
was only about a week before flight.
Duke: A week
before launch, yeah. So I guess they had maybe 2 or 3 days of training.
And the movie [Apollo] 13 seemed to imply that Swigert wasn’t
ready, you know. He was sort of a fill-in and really wasn’t
qualified. But that wasn’t true. Jack was a real good command
module [pilot]. We were ready to go as a crew. And it showed the—to
me, that showed the beauty of the synergy of all of our training,
that we could—you could take somebody, a week before liftoff,
stick him in, and everybody felt comfortable. And that was the training
was so (what’s the word I’m searching for?)—everybody
did the same thing. In other words—
I guess, is the best word. So anyway, Lovell seemed to think that
they were ready to go, and so they launched. And by this time, I’m—I
think I’d gone back to—I’d gone back home. Because
I remember, I was back in Houston (I think) for the launch, and then
when the explosion occurred, I was home in bed. And John called or—said,
“Hey, they had this explosion and [there’s] a real problem.
Come into Mission Control.” So Ken and I and John showed up
at Mission Control with some of the other guys, and that started,
if I recall, 35 hours of work—either in Mission Control or the
simulator as John and I were—and others were figuring out the
procedures to power up the lunar module, to get them back on a free
return trajectory, and to recover them.
to set the stage a little for that, the spacecraft-combined lunar
module/command module were about (what?) two-thirds of the way to
the Moon when that oxygen tank exploded.
Duke: It was
55 hours out. Yeah.
so, that disabled the command module. And I know that one of the things
that people were really greatly concerned about at that time was that
procedures and step-by-step checklists that had been worked out months
and months in advance suddenly were out the window.
you guys had to then figure out, “All right, how do you run
this new spacecraft arrangement to keep from getting in any more trouble?”
And also we had to not only figure out how to power up, to get it
back, to get them back on trajectory, how to do that burn. We practiced,
developed those procedures in the simulator, did it. We felt like
we had a good handle on it. But then the problem came: “How
are you going to make this thing last for 99 hours?”
which was designed for (what?) 3 days.
Duke: It was
designed—in those days, it was designed for 3 days. It was designed
for two people, not three people. And so we had electrical power;
we had oxygen concerns; we had, you know, water. All the consumables
that were necessary for life were—had to be shepherded, if you
will, very carefully. And to be honest, for the first 25 hours, Doug,
I didn’t think we were going to make it. And I—something
was going to run out.
But by the time they did the burn to put them back on free return,
which was, if I recall, something in the 70-hour timeframe, when we
started—whipped them around the Moon and started back, you know,
it started looking better and better to me. And my thought changed
to, “If we don’t screw this up, either in here or in Mission
Control or onboard, we got it made.” And sure enough, everybody
did a great job; and, I mean, the miraculous things that, you know,
[Crew Systems Division Chief] Dick [Richard S.] Johnston’s guys
did to get the lithium hydroxide working and—
was to get the carbon dioxide to go back on.
Duke: To get
the carbon dioxide working so we could use the command module system.
Thank God for gray tape. You know, every flight had two rolls of gray
tape; and then the Electrical guys figured out how to take power from
the lunar module and go back into the command module and keep those
right. Because you had—regardless of whether the lunar module
got you back, you had to have the command module to reenter.
Duke: To reenter.
That’s correct. And so, you know, it was a tense time and—during
the whole procedure and—of the recovery and 99 hours of drama,
or thereabouts, till they separated and reentered. John Young and
I were talking last night about that, as a matter of fact; and I remember
we had figured out, in the simulator, that they had a series of maneuvers
to do right before reentry to—because we were—we had never
separated this whole stack of the command module, service module,
lunar module for reentry. It had never been designed for that.
were going 25,000 miles an hour at that point.
And accelerating, and how—one’s going to be reentering
at the wrong speed, and the dynamics and the aerodynamics of it. Could
we crash them together? And so, we had to figure out what was the
best attitude and we’d done that, but it required a number of
maneuvers to get it in the right position. And the more we thought
about that, the more concerned I became, because, I mean, we could
still be maneuvering and (Excuse me)—and we’d reenter
and not get it all done, or we’d get to gimbal lock if we have
a problem with a jet. We’d lose our attitude.
And so it was a real moment of decision, if you will. If I—as
I recall it, John and I went to (I think it was Gene Kranz) and said
“Gene,” you know, “why don’t we just take
what we got and just separate and let’s just go?” And
we did one or two little maneuvers, but we cut out some of them and
that’s what we agreed to do. And sure enough, everything came
back in; and we didn’t have any problems at all with collisions
and things like that.
Mattingly ever thank you?
you know, when I caught the measles and he was off the mission, he
was really, I think, sad.
Ward: Oh sure.
I mean, and especially after that explosion. You know, he had that
sense of duty and—that that’s where he should be.
after the recovery and you know all it—his responsibilities
in the command module and during the recovery and return, after that
was over and it was announced that we would go on into Apollo 16 together,
he never—I don’t ever remember us talking about it. It
was never a moment of, “Charlie, how could you do that?”
know, it was just one of those things that happen.
Duke: By the
way, after the measles, it turned out on Apollo 16, Fred Haise was
the backup commander for us. And so, I got into the—we were
up climbing into the command module on the launch pad and Guenter
Wendt and the team were up there. And so John gets in, and I’m
the next in on the right side. And as I—as I start to climb
in, I reach in and I look over and on the—taped to the back
of my seat was a big thing, “Typhoid Mary suit—seat.”
[laughs] So, we had a—
weren’t going to let you forget.
laugh over that. Yeah, Fred would never let me forget that.
back to 16, as you and Young prepared for your landing on 16, what
kind of advice did you get from the prior crews, from 11 through 14
on every mission after it was over, we had a day of debriefing that
was basically just the Astronaut Office. Of course 11, 12, [and] 14
were in quarantine after the missions, and so after the missions were
over—while they were still in quarantine, the whole Astronaut
Office went over and we spent a day just talking about procedures
and attitudes, feelings, all of the things that you want to know about
as a—after the flight’s over. And sort of cull all this
information out of everyone. And so you sort of get more of a feeling
and a sense of what it’s like, rather than just the technical
procedures of it.
A lot of suggestions came out of those debriefings. For instance,
I remember on Apollo 15, which was the first rover flight, John and
I were scheduled to be the first flight with the rover. But you remember
they canceled Apollo 18 and 19, and so they moved what was the called
the “J” missions from 16, 17, 18, they moved them up to
15, 16, 17. And so instead of being the first flight with the rover,
we were the second. Well John and I had been in the development of—had
monitored the development of the rover. And one of the concerns we
had about the rover was the seatbelt and all of that.
And sure enough, the seatbelt was very difficult to buckle and get
cinched in on the lunar surface. Because in the suit, you’re
looking—you can’t see down into this part where it was
connected on a special bar, down on the side of the rover. And so,
it was sort of a blind connection. And it turned out, they had a real
difficult time on 15. So when they got back, well, that’s what
we discussed; and as a result of that, we went into a redesign for
16. It was simple, but it was a redesign; and so we got that. So John
and I didn’t have any trouble. We just could reach over and
hook it in, and then flip it over and lock ourselves into the seat.
So the debriefings really were important, I thought. As we came up
with systems and modification of procedures, different stowage ideas
and concepts, that all evolved over the life of the program.
And so those moments of—or day of debriefing was excellent.
So we knew when we landed on the Moon that, you know, we weren’t
going to sink out of sight. So when we hit the footpad, there wasn’t
any tentative step. It was just: Jump off and—
work. And so, that was a, you know—a lot of growth and maturity
in the program as we went along.
It really was amazing, if you look at the amount of—number of
scientific instruments, the weight that you carried on Apollo 11 versus
how much you guys had. You had about twice as much—
equipment on your flight. And the lunar rover was an amazing little—
Duke: An incredible
all by itself.
It was an incredible machine. Of course [it] revolutionized lunar
surface exploration. Instead of 400 yards, you could go 4 miles in
any direction. And so, our objective, of course, was the Descartes
highlands of the Moon. And it was a valley 8 to 10 miles across, and
the objective was to explore the—to the south to a place we
called Stone Mountain and then to the north, 3 or 4 miles, to a place
called North Ray Crater, which was at the base of the Smoky Mountains,
you know, after the names that we had selected. And so, with a rover,
you could do that.
You know, we took us 40/50 minutes to drive down south; and I was
the navigator. We had trained, so I was the navigator; and John was
the—was the lunar module—I mean was the driver of the
rover. And since the TV camera couldn’t be on during our drive
across the Moon (the antenna had to be pointed right at the Earth
to get a TV picture), and so as we drove, the antenna was whipping
with the lunar module and it would never stay pointed. And it wasn’t
gyro-stabilized, so we never had TV back in Mission Control while
we were under way.
So to cover that gap, which might be as much as 2 kilometers or whatever,
I was taking pictures and describing the terrain we were going over.
So I was sort of the travel guide for Mission Control; the eyes of
Mission Control during that time. And I had a set of maps that would
take us from lunar module to Point A, or whatever, Stop One. And these
maps were the same photographs that had been taken on Apollo 14 of
our landing area, and so it was like you were looking down. Now unfortunately,
once you get on the surface, some of the features just disappear.
You know, it’s not like looking down from altitude. And so you
could see the major features, like Stone Mountain. But if you were
looking for a spot like Plum Crater—Plum Crater was 1.7 kilometers
in—to the west of us, and directly west. So we had to navigate
out to this place, and, you know, you were looking around. It was
like you couldn’t see the objective for the trees type deal.
were just too close. But the maps were really good. We landed within
a couple of hundred meters of where we thought we were going to land.
So we, you know, basically recognized the major landing mark—spots.
And I remember as John started off, I said, “Okay, John. Steer
120 degrees for 1.2 kilometers, and then turn left to 090 degrees
and go another 2 kilometers” or whatever it was. And so, that’s
the way we navigated. The lunar rover had a little directional gyro.
There was no magnetic field on the Moon, so a magnetic compass wouldn’t
So we had a little gyroscope that was mounted in the instrument panel
of the rover, and so we pointed it down-Sun and it was the old Navy
lubber’s line: You had a bar came down across it, cast a shadow
on the gyroscope compass card. And so we assumed that that shadow
was west, and so we just turned the card till 270 was up underneath
that shadow; and that was our direction. And then we had a little
odometer on the wheel that counted out in kilometers, and so that
was our distance. And so, that’s how we navigated up on the
Generally our trajectory—not our trajectory, but our traverses
were sort of a egg shape, elliptical maneuver. We’d start out
one direction and we’d make a big loop and come back to the
lunar module 6/7 hours later. That was the plan. And, you never really
worried about getting lost up there because the everywhere you drove,
you left your tracks. And so, if you really were unsure of your position,
it was easy just to turn around and follow your tracks back.
tracks are probably still there.
convinced they are, unless there was a meteorite impact nearby that,
a big explosion. And it turned out really good. The car was amazing.
It was electric, four-wheel drive, and it would climb a 25-degree
slope. And so going up Stone Mountain, it felt like we were going
out the back of the seat, because it was a pretty steep hill.
And we got up to our objective, which was a place called Cincos Craters,
and we turned around and sort of started back downhill and, golly!
It felt like—then you really saw how steep it was, because it
felt like you were going to fall out the front of the rover. Well
fortunately, we found a little bench, level area, and we parked the
car and then we did—started our experiments up there on it.
But that was probably the most spectacular view that we had on the
We were three-and-a-half/four miles to the south. We were several
hundred feet above the valley floor. And you could look—from
this advantage, you could look out all the way across the Cayley Plains
and the valley that we had landed in. You could see, in the distance,
[Smokey] Mountain and North Ray Crater. And there was—right
out in the middle there was a our little lunar module that was the
Mylar was orange, and you could see that. And then looking off to
the northwest over this way was—as far as the eye could see—was
just the rolling terrain of lunar surface, you know, shades of gray.
It was really an impressive sight. My only regret, I think, of the
whole mission was that we didn’t take enough pictures with people
Ward: Oh yeah.
Duke: We took
a lot of rock pictures. But now looking back, you pictures with people
in them, was really, I think, important.
at least you improved on Apollo 11, where they got no pictures of
the Moon because Buzz had the camera.
The only picture I believe we have is the TV camera as he steps off
of the lunar—the footpad.
a 16mm film camera shooting out the window. Otherwise—there’s
been some speculation that there may at some point have been an exchange
of cameras and that one of the shots over by the lunar module was
Neil. But of course, the other—one of the other changes, you’ll
remember, was the identifying stripes on the suits—
you couldn’t tell who was who because there was no way to tell—
suit—one spacesuit from another.
So we ended up—that’s a good point. We ended up that John,
the commander, had red stripes; a broad red stripe around each arm
and around each leg. And generally, that was a good identifying mark.
But after 3 days, falling down on the Moon and we lost—remember,
we lost a fender on our rover, and it was like raining—
Ward: Oh that’s
dust on us. And instead of a Mr. Clean-looking white suit, we ended
so this lunar dust sort of smudged us into the red stripes instead
of—so it was sort of difficult towards the end to recognize—
another. At least, in the pictures.
scientifically were you looking for at Descartes?
the major objective, of course, was the geology. And the photo-geology
interpretation of our landing site, there were two major volcanic-type
rock: a very viscous rock that bulged up and caused the Stone Mountain
topographical relief, and then down in the Cayley Plain, the valley
was another kind of more viscous, less viscous rock that flowed out.
And so we were looking at a contact between those two geologic features
to see if there was any. It turned out that our landing site produced
very little volcanic rock.
The major rock was breccias and igneous rock, so we had very little
volcanics. And, when we started describing this, I kind of suspect
that our geology team back in the Mission Control back room was thoughts
like, “We wasted our time on these guys,” you know, “They’re
not looking at what they’re doing,” you know. But as we
did more and more, they realized that this really was a unique landing
site and was not like the mare, that it was really different. And
so we—the rocks we collected were a unique suite of lunar materials.
The other objectives, of course: We had the Apollo science package,
which included a heat flow experiment. It included a—which was
to measure the heat coming out of the Moon. It included a magnetic
magnetometer, which was to measure any residual magnetism on the Moon.
It included a spectrometer, which was to measure the gases escaping
from the lunar surface. And two seismic experiments: one active, one
passive. And maybe one or two others that I don’t recall. But
that was the basic science package.
That was one of the first things we did. Once we got the rover off
the lunar module, put the TV on. I pulled out the science package.
I fuelled it with the RTG, which was a radioactive thermal generator
(a little plutonium source). And I put that into the cast that would
then generate the electrical power for the experiments. And I bolted
the—(not bolted but, hooked the) packages onto the edge of a
bar and I remember throwing it up in the air and hooking it in my
elbows, in here like this, and I started jogging out to the deployment
site, which was a couple of hundred meters to the east—no, to
the west of where we landed.
Well, on the way out there (I’m jogging out), and one of these
packages falls off the bar and just sort of bounces across the Moon.
“Oh my Lord,” you know, was my thought. I’d blown
the whole deal, you know, and broken all these experiments. And, well,
it turned out that the thing was pretty robust, and so when I hooked
it back. I looked around real quick to make sure that nobody had seen
that. But unfortunately the TV camera—
pointed right at me, and so everybody had seen this. But I recovered,
and we went on out and deployed everything. [Everything] worked. The
only problem we had was during the deployment of—I was drilling
some holes into the Moon for the heat-flow experiment when John was
putting up the central station and the data area. And, unfortunately,
it was a spaghetti bowl full of cables around this thing, with all
of the experiments attached, and—like a spiderweb. And unfortunately,
he had a—he got one wrapped around his foot, which we had warned
the guys about. We said, “You know, this is spaghetti; and up
on the Moon, one-sixth gravity, these things are going to coil up
like spaghetti.” And sure enough, that’s what happened.
And John ran off and, unfortunately, pulled a cable loose for us.
And that was the data source and collector and power source for the
experiment. So we lost the heat flow experiment, which was tragic
because I had worked hard on it, and the principal investigator was
a real great guy, and, you know, we wanted to do a good job.
it—we lost it. But that was the only real major problem we had,
I think, as far as experiments goes, Doug. Everything else worked
Ward: In fact,
those stations—some of the aspects of those stations—at
some locations are still working. The retroreflectors.
you know, it was designed, I think—designed for a year (power
source-wise). And the RTG kept working; and, if I recall, 4 or 5 years
later NASA was still getting data from this thing. And finally budgets
ran out, and they sent a signal to shut it down.
Yeah. A bunch of guys went into people’s garages a few years
ago and got the activation data that people had hung on to. And they
tried to reactive—
of the sites to see if it would come back to life and used an antenna,
I think, in South America to try and communicate with it. But it wouldn’t—
it wouldn’t work.
I keep—I still make a lot of talks around the country. And I
said, “Anybody want an $8M car with a dead battery? You can
go get ours.” Yeah, it’s still there.
there. Let’s see: House Rock was one of the features that you
guys encountered. What was—that was a very spectacular sight
on the television because it loomed on the horizon, it looked so big.
What was your first sensation when you saw that?
my first sensation was that it wasn’t very far away. And John’s
sensation was, “That’s a big rock!” I said, “Oh
no, John. Come on. It’s just right out there. And let’s
go down there.” Well, there’s a problem on the Moon. Your—with
depth perception because you’re looking at objects you’ve
never seen before, so a big object far away looks very similar to
a smaller object close in. You don’t have any pole—telephone
poles or houses or trees or cars to sit and judge scale like we—did
down—down here on Earth. And so, in my mind this rock was sort
of average size and was just out there and “Let’s go do
it.” And John was a little hesitant, but I said—they finally
Mission Control said, “Well, have at it.” And so we started
jogging, and then I realized, “This is a big rock!”
We kept jogging and jogging, and the rock kept getting bigger and
bigger and bigger. And we were going slightly downhill, that we didn’t
sense at first, and so we get down to this thing and we called it
“House Rock.” You know, it must’ve been 90 feet
across and 45 feet tall. It was humongous. And we walked around to
the front side or the east side, which was in the sunlight, and, you
know, it was towering over us. And you had this little hammer in our
hand, you know, “What are we going to do with this rock?”
And later on I— for Mission Control, saw some of the videos;
and Mulberger and those guys in the back, they were cheering us on,
you know, as we were going down. And actually, you could see that
little dot; that rock was in the photograph. And I hadn’t realized
didn’t realize what it was.
it was. It was just a little black dot. And so when we got down there—this
humongous rock towering over us—and John and I hit with a hammer,
and a chunk came off, and we were able to collect a piece of House
Rock. But—then we had to hike back. It was uphill, and it was
a struggle getting back up.
But, we had some nuisance things, you know, that happened. Sample
bags falling off. And clips not working. And little nuisance things
like that, that we used—that we had to collect samples. But
it all and all, everything worked right.
even to this day, will talk about how difficult it is to work in a
full pressure suit.
you guys were out 3 days in a row, (what?) about 7 hours a day, working
in those suits. How did you find that?
you didn’t really sense a problem. I mean, you’re so pumped
up out there on the lunar surface, you didn’t really sense any,
you know—any problems. We had a good cooling system that kept
us, temperature wise inside; it was very comfortable. We had a hot
water—bottle of water Velcroed to the inside of the suit that
we could drink out, because we were outside 7—I think 7 hours
and 40-something minutes was the longest for us. And so we had a gallon
of water in there that we could drink, you know. A little high-energy
food bar that was Velcroed, that came up inside the helmet, that you
could snack on. And that—so that kept you nourished.
you couldn’t scratch your nose.
you couldn’t scratch your nose. But you could reach over and,
you know,—and hit the side of the helmet and things like that.
Or if you had to, you could sort of rub your back against the suit
if you know, you could do that. And, the suit you had to learn how
to operate. You couldn’t bend over at the waist without great
difficulty. You couldn’t really bend at the knee totally. So
you had to learn how to operate the suit to make it work for you.
It turned out that when we got back inside and you took everything
off, you were exhausted. I mean, it was hard work. I mean, you’re
squeezing that glove for 7/8 hours was like, you know, a hard rubber
ball in your hand for—if you can imagine squeezing a ball for
7/8 hours. And doing the curls and stuff in the suit, and trying to
make it work for you. It was real work.
A couple of times, I remember, the flight surgeon said, “Slow
down. Your heartbeat’s up to 140 a minute or so. We want you
to rest.” And so, generally, we rested in the car when we drove
from point to point. But a couple of times they had to make me just
slow down and rest. The suit was—it was tough work. I mean,
it was I liken it to being in a gym for, you know, a light workout
for 7/8 hours.
I remember my arms were cramping in here, and the end of the—some
of the fingernails—fingers were, you know, sort of black-and-blue
from blood bruises and those kind of things we had that were as a
result of the Apollo pressure suit. It kept you alive, though. It
was very secure. You—only one time did I have a feeling that,
“I’m in trouble” in the suit, and that was the final
part of our stay on the Moon.
We were going to do the Moon Olympics, and—but John said, “Houston,
we were going to do the Moon Olympics but we’re running out
of time, so we won’t do that.” And I said, “Yeah,
Houston, I was going to bounce and set the high jump record.”
And I started just kidding around and bouncing, and when I jumped
the last time, I went over backwards and disappeared behind the lunar
rover, and the TV camera’s pointed at me and—that was
a moment of panic, Doug. I really—you know, I was in trouble.
You could watch me scrambling like that, trying to get my balance.
I ended up landing on my right side, and bouncing on to my back. And
my heart was just pounding, you know.
was your concern? That you’d damaged the suit?
I’d have damaged the suit. You know, the backpack is very fragile.
I thought the suit would hold, but the backpack, with the plumbing
and connections and all, if that broke, it was just like having a
puncture in the suit.
so that was my real concern. And, you know, falling over backwards
on the Moon, you—hardly ever did we think about, you know, “We’re
in a vacuum. This thing’s got to work.” I don’t
hardly ever remember thinking about that or worrying about that. But
this time, as I started over backwards, the thought occurred to me,
you know, “I’m in trouble.”
I was—so I was able to spin right and—before I hit, and
my right foot and right hand hit, and I bounced on to my back. And
John came over and helped me up. But, I mean, I got real quiet, and
you could hear the pumps running in the backpack. And I checked my
pressure. It was okay. And so this fear began to subside.
And then I realized the TV camera was pointed at me and then embarrassment
came. You know, “The stupid stunt.” And I forgot what
Mission Control said. I think Tony [Anthony W.] England was our Capcom,
and it was, “That’s enough of that, guys,” or something,
you know. And anyway, that ended our Moon Olympics. But other than
that moment, there was not a moment where I didn’t feel secure
in our suits.
you find that you adapted very quickly to the—to moving in one-sixth
to doing the hop.
we did. I found that either the hop or the skip was the best for me.
John was more of a jogger-type thing. But I found the hop—generally,
the skip was—it was—for some reason it seemed like, I
have to remember, I put my right foot out front and I just sort of
skipped along like that, with one foot out front. But—a lot.
But then again, if the ground was level, you would start a little
jog and then it was sort of effortless as you went across. You fell
on your—we fell down a lot and—at least I did. And I found
when you did fall down (Excuse me) on your front, then you could just
do a series of push-ups and you’d sort of rock yourself back
up and then eventually you’d pop up. On your back was another
So it was a—you know, great fun. You know, John and I really
had a ball. We [were] joking and just having a tremendous sense of
enjoyment and adventure. It was a real adventure for me and John.
And it built a friendship that is, you know—is real solid now,
27 years later. And it’s a fun experience. I’d love to
do it again.
Ward: I suspect
you had no inkling at that time that it would be—that 20/27
years later, we would still not have gone back to the Moon.
I was—[it was] a disappointment to me that we canceled the last
couple of flights. I can understand the management’s reasoning
behind that, that we, you know, go on to the Space Shuttle. And I
think we will eventually get back to the Moon with some sort of Moon
base, but, of course, now effort is focused on the International Space
Station. A big project with lots of money. And, basically, consuming
all the manned flight budgets for the next 10 or 15 years; and it’s—(what?)
designed for 10 or 15 years of use. So it’ll be after that,
unless that thing doesn’t make it. Then we’re in trouble,
I think, as far as manned flight goes.
But if it works like we hope it will, and all of that data is collected,
then we’ll—I think we’ll see a Moon base with crews
cycling back and forth on a 3-month basis, 2 months maybe, maybe even
longer. And eventually, my great-grandkids or grandkids will—somebody
will say, “Here we are on Mars.” I really believe we’ll
you think we’ll go back to the Moon before we go to Mars?
I think it’d be easiest to do that. It’s something a lot
closer, and we can build on that experience. And it’s a—scientifically
good reasons to do it. It’s not just another stunt to the Moon.
It’s a lot of stuff we can learn from a base on the Moon. So—but
I think it’s in the human spirit to go out and explore. I would
say most of us or all of us, as astronauts, that volunteered did it
for two reasons: It was the thrill of adventure and a desire to explore,
you know, what’s out there. And that’s why I did it anyway.
Kraft has said a couple of times that he doesn’t think we’ll
go back to the Moon until it’s easy to do it again. Do you tend
to agree with that, that as long as it’s as difficult to do
as it was in Apollo, we’re not likely to mount that kind of
an effort again?
he’s right, yeah. I mean, that might be a degree. What’s
easy is, you know—is—means different things to different
folks. With a potential of water—ice up at the North Pole region
or wherever that, you know, Clementine—wherever he found that
stuff, I think it was the North Pole. Then those—that sort of
is an impetus, you know. Maybe it won’t be so hard to establish
a base where we could extract some of this—these consumables
that would help us out. I believe we have the technology. My big regret,
I guess, looking back, was that we didn’t continue the heavy-lift
vehicles like what we had in Apollo.
the Saturn V?
the Saturn V, you know. I mean, we could put up the Space Station
with three or four Saturns at the maximum. Now we’re (what?)
70-something missions and dependent on the Proton and supply vehicles
Duke: So there
was—there’s a lot of good reasons for heavy-lift vehicles
that were man-rated, and we could maybe eventually start building
something on the Moon. But Chris is right. He’s a great prophet
and a great manager, and it was great working for him. Hopefully we’ll
have some propulsion breakthroughs that will eventually take us on
to Mars and we’ll have a successful flight.
Ward: If you
had a chance to go back to Descartes, what do you think you’d
find? Do you think your lunar module and your flag and all that would
still be there?
without a nearby meteorite impact, yeah. I believe it’d still
don’t think the flag blew down when you took off?
that it look like it. We had some—you know, I was running a
camera out of the window, and as we pitched over—I mean, it
wiggled a lot. And we had the—but I think it stayed upright,
as near as I could tell from the video. I didn’t analyze it
completely. But of course the rover’s still there. Dead—battery
dead. Experiments there. Power source gone. But unless a meteorite’s
hit there, I—those old footprints are still there.
Ward: I remember
some of the scientists at the time said the footprints would probably
last longer than cities—
Earth, and that the lunar module would last longer than the Rocky
[laughs] Well, we’ll see about that, you know.
Ward: I understand.
know, that’s—you know, I don’t know—you know,
the frequency of meteorite impacts in that area. And it’d be
easy for, you know, a couple of them to hit that were football size.
a pretty good crater.
a big change. One of the things that changed on your mission from
the previous one was a reaction, I wonder if you think perhaps it
was an overreaction, to the exhaustion and the irregular heart rate
that Jim Irwin experienced on 15 because of the heavy workload. And
as a result, they really loaded you guys down with the potassium.
I’m glad they did that. You know, we had—they changed
our medical kit. They gave us some sort of injection that we could
take if we did see heart problems developing. That was an experience
that was (looking back at the time) humorous. It was—looking
back, it’s humorous. At the time it was sort of, we turned white.
We were in Mission—not Mission Control but Flight Medicine,
and we were getting a briefing on this new medical kit with this thing
that was to—heart medication. It wasn’t oral, but it was
an injection. And one of the flight surgeons was telling us, “Well,
you count down so many ribs” and this was going to be injected
right into the heart muscle. And you’d press it. (It was like
those battlefield syringes that would fire this needle in and inject
And so he said, “Well, let me demonstrate this.” And he
took a Styrofoam ball about the size of a grapefruit and he pressed
this thing. And when it went off, the Styrofoam ball exploded. And
I almost passed out, you know. I said, “Man, I—”
I knew at that moment, “that thing is never going into my heart.
And I don’t care how sick I am.” And, so we never had
to use it, of course. But they did put the potassium in to try to
regulate the heartbeats.
But that refreshed my memory. It also generated that hard workload
on the Moon helped us to develop some tools that would help us to
overcome that hard workload. For instance, the core that we had to
drill (10 feet deep), [Apollo] 15 could hardly get the thing back
out of the surface. I mean, he and Jim (Dave [David R.] Scott was
a gorilla and was strong as he could be), and he—you know, they
had a tough time.
Duke: So we
developed this little jack. They did it over in the—here on
base, the Lunar Surface Tools guy and the—and so, it was a collar
that went around the stem that was sticking out of the surface and
by—I could just sort of—like a car jack, just keep jacking
it and this would slowly jack this thing out of the surface. And it
was easy to do, and—so those kind of things came about in debriefing,
that we’d talked about earlier, and those were the modifications
that we made. So the workload that we had was less than they had on
The one thing that potassium did, we didn’t have any heart problems.
But we found that potassium did work as a little laxative, and we
had our problems with, you know—with our BMs [bowel movements?].
At least I did. And it turned out that it wasn’t very pleasant.
You know, the Apollo system wasn’t the most high-tech system
in the world to use; and so, while we didn’t have any real serious
accidents, it was just, you know, to have that frequency of BMs was
really a problem.
A bit inconvenient—
the circumstances. You mentioned that at the end of the day, you get
back into the lunar module, get the suits off, and you’re in
an environment one-sixth gravity. No place to lie down. Really jammed
in. How do you—how were you able to sleep between the EVAs,
between the excursions?
you know, you’re tight, but I wouldn’t call it “jammed
in.” We had—once we got off the suits, there was a place
behind—between us, behind us over the ascent engine cover where
we could drape the suits over, and they were sort of out of the way.
And so now we’re, you know, one-sixth gravity and, yeah, you
could just sort of lean back. For me, I could lean back and sort of
semi-sit on the environmental control unit. And it—we just felt—it
was comfortable, really, without any actually sitting down.
And when we got ready to—for our rest period, we each had a
little beta-cloth hammock. Mine attached across the ship. If this
was the front, I was this way. And down—just a few inches off
the floor. And there were some hooks on the left side, and two hooks
on the right side. And I just took a—so I hooked up this little
hammock, cinched it up, so it was about 6 inches off the floor, and
got—I rolled up one of the liquid-cooled garments for a pillow
and used that as a pillow. John’s was—his was up above
the ascent engine cover, and his was this way, fore-to-aft in the
lunar module. And he hooked on to the sides of the instrument panel
and the back bulkhead, and so we were sort of in a cross, like this.
And he would climb up and get in his hammock. He went right to sleep.
I—the first night—we had changed our flight plan due to
this late landing that required us to go sleep before we went outside
for the first time. Well I mean, I’m on the Moon and, you know,
6 hours after landing: “Go to sleep,” you know. Well,
my mind’s just racing like crazy and, even though we were tired,
I couldn’t get to sleep. So I asked the guys if I could take
a sleeping pill, and I—which I did, and then I drifted off to
rest. And the sleep was very comfortable in the little hammocks, once
you got to sleep. I mean, they’re not comfortable but restful,
I should say.
I remember that first sleep period. We had been warned that, some
time during the night, we would have a master caution would go off
and—due to a reaction control regulator problem that we had
had during—prior to descent. That was also a problem that we
overcame, thanks to John. When we powered up the system, we lost the
pressurization controller; the regulators both failed. And we were
overpressurizing, but John quickly vented the pressure into the ascent
engine tank and so we were able to save the mission.
But as we rested, it began to heat up and overpressurize again. And
we knew when we got to a certain level, this warning would go off.
And sure enough, I’ve just dozed off and “Bong, bong,
bong!” I got the headset on and this master alarm went off.
And I mean, I almost went through the top of the lunar module. And
it was—got my attention. And I cycled whatever I had to cycle
to vent the pressure, and then went back to sleep.
Ward: It was
all right for the rest of the time?
Duke: It was
all right the rest of the time, yeah. We didn’t—never
had any other problem. And then after that, then we started our EVAs.
We had one and we slept. And then I didn’t need any sleeping
pill anymore. Like we said earlier, it was an exhausting—you
were physically tired when you got off the lunar surface. And I was
able to get right to sleep. And I’d say we averaged, maybe,
6 hours’ (on the lunar surface) sleep. The best rest I got was
on the way home, you know. You started home and your attitude was,
“Mission complete. We’ve done it,” you know, “We’re
on our way back. Let Mattingly handle this thing from now on.”
And I remember later on, I was on the monitor, and so the flight surgeon
was watching me sleep on the way home. And I think my heartbeat got
down to, like, 28. I mean, I was dead to the world, and it [was] just
really refreshing. And they were, you know—woke—when I
woke up, they said, “Man, we thought you were dying,”
you know. “It was—it just kept getting slower and slower.”
But it was very—once you get used to sleeping out there, it’s
very refreshing, Doug. You don’t wake up with any, you know,
cricks in your back or neck or—there’s no pressure like
[there is] down here.
you were on the Moon, it was Tony England, your Capcom at Mission
Control, relayed the news to you that the House of Representatives
had passed the NASA budget with funding to go ahead and design and
build the Space Shuttle.
Yeah. That was exciting.
Duke: In fact
we had just saluted the flag—John had just saluted the flag
and give that little jump for joy and saluted. And when we were changing
positions, if I remember, right after that Tony sent up the word that
they had just received word that they had funded the Space Shuttle.
And John and I were excited. John made some comment about, “Yeah,
we really need that Shuttle;” and it was great. Then we were
on to work.
Another event that I thought was memorable to me—two other things—I
was the only Air Force officer on the Moon during 1972. We had two
missions, 16 and 17. And it was the 25th anniversary of the Air Force
in 1972. And so, they had some special medals struck, little, like,
silver dollar-size that had the Air Force seal on one side and Apollo
on the other. And so, I had took two to the Moon with me, with the
approval of NASA, and left one on the Moon (took a picture of it)
and brought the other back. And so I was able to say “Happy
birthday, Air Force,” while we were on the lunar surface. I
also had a flag—Air Force flag that I had taken, and they—with
NASA, gave them a piece of Moon rock. And they’re in a museum
now up at Wright-[Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio].
The other was: I took a picture of my family. Our kids were 5 and
7. And a little picture that had been taken in the backyard by one
of the NASA guys, Ludy Benjamin, and we had that encased in Velcro
(not Velcro) but—shrink-wrapped. And on the back of this photograph,
you know, we’d written: “This is the family of Astronaut
Duke from Planet Earth. Landed on the Moon, April 1972.” And
the kids had signed it, you know, to sort of get them involved with
the flight. So I left that on the Moon and took a picture of the picture,
and that’s one of our neatest possessions now.
Ward: A nice
Young, of course, stayed on with NASA and extended his flight career
into flying the Shuttle. You left in ’76, before the Shuttle
really became operational. Do you regret not having—
Duke: I do.
Duke: I look
back now and I wish I had stayed. The Shuttle turned out to be a tremendous
flying machine. Not as cheap as we expected it to be, but certainly
a good machine. And I look back now and I wish I could’ve flown
some of the experimental flights on it and maybe a few of the operational
missions. It—my 10 years was a great part of my life. Wonderful
memories. Wonderful friends, Doug. I left and—but I do have
some regrets as I look back now. Why did I do that? Why didn’t
I worked on Shuttle for 3 years after Apollo was over. I guess I had
some conflicting goals in my life at—in those days that just
led me to leave. I look back and wished I’d have stayed on for
The engineering and the development of the Shuttle in the mid-’70s
was iffy, you know. Would we really get it going? Would we really
get it funded? Would we really—would it really fly? And I had
worked on cockpit layouts, airlocks, MMUs [manned maneuvering unit],
things like that. But I’d left it, basically, was out of the
Astronaut Office, was in Operations Management over in Building 1;
and I don’t know. I just got frustrated with—
pace of the program, I guess, and so I decided to leave. I had a business
opportunity, which was, I thought—was lucrative and maybe I
ought to do that. So we left. But now, looking back, I really missed
really, really more the norm than the exception. So many of the astronauts—
Voice Off Camera: We need to stop tape real quick. We’re running out of
Ward: Oh my
Voice Off Camera: And recording.
Voice Off Camera: Go ahead.
we were talking about your decision to leave NASA in ’76. And
one of the things that I’ve observed over the years is that,
that was probably more the norm. In fact, it definitely was the norm
with astronauts departing, going to very attractive business opportunities.
Many people have gone on to become chief executive officers of big
corporations, done very well in investments, and in the outside world.
And you begin to—you begin to wonder if perhaps NASA had offered
this very talented group of people better executive career opportunities,
if more of them might have stayed on with the Agency?
I don’t blame NASA really, Doug. They did offer me a great job.
I—they offered me a job as the Associate Administrator for Legislative
Affairs, which was a, you know, General officer job really and—at
that level. And—but our marriage was in tough shape at that
point, and I hardly knew my kids. And I decided that I’d better
not do that because, you know, that was going to be 14-/15-hour days,
and I needed (in [the] ’73/’74 timeframe)—I needed
some time. I’d better spend some time with my kids. And so I
turned it down, primarily for that reason. Secondarily was I wanted
to stay in the cockpit and I love flying. And so, T-38s are here.
And so I sort of moved laterally over to Shuttle, became a technical
assistant in the Shuttle Project Office, and some things like that.
Probably for me career-wise, I think NASA offered me a good opportunity.
It just—it wasn’t what was in the best interest of our
family at the time to accept. Looking back, I think probably staying
in the Astronaut Office would’ve been the right thing for me,
because things did begin to pick up right after I left and started
flying, you know, mockups and hardware were getting built, and that—all
that excitement, like in the early days of Apollo. So—but the
frustrations, I think, that were occurring in the mid-’70s,
a lot of—you know, a lot of the Moonwalkers did leave, and—
Ward: It was
a difficult time for everybody.
there was no real planned progression for us. There was just sort
of what you could get. But I don’t blame NASA, because they
did offer me a real nice job up at Headquarters.
begun to see second-generation flight controllers, engineers, the
children of the people who were here during Apollo coming back into
jobs. But one of the things that we haven’t seen is the children
of astronauts coming back as astronauts. Do you have any explanations
[as] to why that may be the case?
I don’t. But I—my son, Tom, when he was in his early 20s,
just graduated from college, that’s what he wanted to do. He
got a Master’s degree in—he was pre-med at Baylor [University,
Waco, Texas], but like his dad, fell in love with airplanes when he
was in college. So he decided he wanted to be a medical doctor and
a fighter pilot, and I said, “Well, you can’t do that
on active duty, but you can do it in the [National] Guard.”
So he joined the Guard. Then after he graduated, he got a Master’s
degree, go to Guard—they went to flight school, and became an
F-16 pilot. And he—we even made some inquiries into Test Pilot
School. Could he get into Test Pilot School? Because he was really—wanted
to be an astronaut.
But it turned out, Guard—getting into Test Pilot School from
the Guard was almost impossible. So he’d have had to gone on
active duty, and there was no guarantee that he would’ve made
it. And he was really enjoying his Guard duty. He was full time at
Kelly [Air Force Base] in San Antonio. And so it—that faded
away. Now he’s a Delta [Airlines] pilot and still flying F-16s
on the side.
And why—you know, Fred Gregory’s got a guy. And Joe [H.]
Engle. Let’s see, there a few others that—I don’t
know whether Joe’s got a son. But there’s a few others
that are out there, F-15 pilots. Stu Roosa has a son that’s—would—might
be qualified. But I don’t know why nobody’s really sort
of applied. But I’d like it—I was hoping Tom would be
one of the first father/son combinations.
it sounds like there are some out there who are candidates—
there may be.
we may see it.
I hope so.
were some of the people, when you look back on your career with NASA,
who had the greatest influence on you, both within the astronaut corps
and in management, public positions?
in the Astronaut Office, of course, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton,
I really respected. John Young, probably one of the most brilliant
engineering minds that the space program has. Probably—certainly
the most—one of the most dedicated to the program. Still there.
Tom Stafford originally was a big help to me. And then, I’d
say Neil Armstrong. I really appreciated him asking me to be the Capcom,
because to be involved with that mission was a real thrill.
As a contemporaries Stu Roosa and I were real close. We’d been
classmates at Test Pilot School, and we had worked early days in Propulsion
with Borman, and then we were—ended up backup on Apollo 17 together;
and so we were real close. And he was a very talented guy.
Management-wise, I really respected the flight directors, you know:
Gerry [Gerald D.] Griffin and Gene [sic] Lunney and—Glynn [S.]
Lunney and Gene Kranz. Management-wise, I thought Dr. [Robert R.]
Gilruth was a wonderful guy. And then Chris Kraft, of course. Down
around on the lower level, you know, I could name the whole Mission
Control guys in the trenches were really super.
And then in the Training area, the guys that really, you know—really
were our team to help us in the simulators: Mike Hernandez, Mike Wash,
Charlie Floyd, and many others. Dave Ballard, who was on our team,
was basically in charge of the team for procedures and checklist development.
And all those guys that had responsibility for the checklist; and
the suit guys, Troy [M.] Stewart and others who were our suit techs,
Those friendships are all still there. Some have died and gone on,
but the ones that are still around, we get together every once in
a while and it’s just—you know, it’s a real fraternity,
Doug. And it was something that indeed lifelong friendships were developed
Ward: I guess
those kinds of things don’t come along more than once in a person’s
You know, I look back now on my career in the Air Force. There were
some guys that I [met], you know, 40 years ago and when I went to
Germany in 1959. Some of those guys are still real good friends, the
ones that are—didn’t get killed in Vietnam and other places.
But those that are still there, you know, we—occasionally our
paths cross and it’s still great friendships.
So it’s been a—looking back on it all now, it was a great
moment. And a lot of folks say, “Would you like to go again?”
I said, “Yeah, but I’m not old enough right now.”
a few more years before I get to John’s [John H. Glenn, Jr.]
Duke: So I
don’t think I’ll ever get to go again, but [I’m]—still
physically qualified. So, Dan, if you’re watching, I’m
on. You never know.
never know. Yeah.
thanks a lot.
It was wonderful. Thank you.