NASA’s Moonwalkers — Charles Duke

3 min readJul 21, 2022

Charles Duke is the 10th and youngest man to have walked on the Moon. He was Apollo 16’s Lunar Module Pilot and played a pivotal role in five of the Apollo missions.

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Duke applied for a position at NASA after seeing an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times. He was among of group of 19 men selected in 1966 and promptly moved to Texas for training.

Prior to his most important mission, Apollo 16, Duke oversaw development of the Saturn V launch vehicle and was part of the Mission Control team for the launches of Gemini 11 and 12.

In 1969 Duke joined the support team for Apollo 10. He was selected to be the spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) and remained in close contact with the astronauts for the duration of the mission.

Duke fulfilled this role once more for Apollo 11. It was unusual for someone to serve as CAPCOM in back-to-back missions, however, his presence was requested by the mission commander, Neil Armstrong. Duke’s voice can be heard throughout the legendary mission’s recording.

John Young, Thomas Mattingly, and Duke were officially named Apollo 16’s crew in 1971.

Prior to launch day, all three astronauts were placed under quarantine. The day before liftoff, the Apollo Missions director, Rocco Petrone, saw someone he believed to be Duke at a nearby hotel’s pool. Furious and desperate to confirm Duke’s whereabouts, Petrone demanded to see Duke despite being told by NASA personnel that he was in training. Petrone had indeed seen someone who looked just like him and upon Apollo 16’s launch, Duke become the first twin to fly to space!

The Apollo 16 team’s mission was to discover if the landing area, the Descartes Highlands, had been formed by volcanic action. Rock samples obtained by Young and Duke confirmed that this was not the case.

Duke’s family portrait

Before embarking on the mission, Duke had promised his family that he would take them to the Moon with him. One of his final acts before returning home was to leave a picture of his family behind on the lunar surface.

There was still time for the mission’s most dramatic moment. Shortly before returning home, Duke decided to go for a lunar record. Attempting a high jump, he made it 0.81m off the surface and fell back onto his life support system. He came dangerously close to a fatal accident during the final moments of his journey!

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