Char­lie Duke Jr. — youngest man on the Moon

The Sudbury Star - - TRAVEL - PAS­TOR ROB WEATHERBY COLUMNIST Pas­tor Rob Weatherby served the Bethel Bap­tist church fam­ily in White­fish. He now looks at the moon in a new way.

Twelve men have walked on the Moon. Four are still liv­ing. I met one of them.

Char­lie Duke Jr. is the 10th and youngest man to ac­com­plish this feat. Re­cently he shared his story at a prayer lun­cheon in Ni­a­gara Falls and I was ea­ger to at­tend. This is what I learned …

Life on Earth

Duke was born in 1935 in North Carolina. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1957 and served as a fighter in­ter­cep­tor pilot in Ger­many for three years. In 1961, Pres­i­dent Kennedy told the world that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and bring him back safely. Duke com­mented that as­tro­nauts were happy to hear the last part be­cause no one wanted a one-way ticket.

The young pilot was cho­sen as a NASA as­tro­naut in 1966. He loved his de­mand­ing but thrilling job. His wife, feel­ing ne­glected, was less en­thu­si­as­tic. She was the home­maker raising their two chil­dren, Charles and Thomas.

Af­ter sup­port­ing ear­lier Apollo mis­sions from the ground, Duke along with John Young and Ken Mat­tingly, were cho­sen for the Apollo 16 moon mis­sion in 1972. He would be the lu­nar mod­ule pilot. His many years of train­ing would now be tested.

Life on the Moon

At lift-off, Duke no­ticed how vi­o­lently their space­craft shook as it sat perched on top of a 48,000 kilo Saturn 5 rocket. His heart­beat shot up to 144 beats/minute. Fel­low as­tro­naut, John Young, who had flown a pre­vi­ous mis­sion, recorded a cool 70 beats. Duke will never for­get look­ing back at the lit­tle blue and green ball called Earth. He de­scribed it as “breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful”. Later in life, these Scrip­tures be­came very mean­ing­ful to him — “God sits en­throned above the cir­cle of the Earth” (Isa­iah 40:22) and “God hangs the Earth on noth­ing” (Job 26:7).

It took three days to reach the moon trav­el­ling at 35,000 km/ hour. Af­ter or­bit­ing the lu­nar sur­face, the crew pre­pared for land­ing.

They were very ex­cited to walk on the moon’s sur­face, which was like a desert of fine, gray sand. Duke joked, “You couldn’t get lost be­cause all you had to do was fol­low your foot­prints back to the lu­nar mod­ule.” They used a lu­nar rover to ex­plore the area bring­ing back rock sam­ples. He was the nav­i­ga­tor and Young was the driver. It only weighed 25 ki­los, so to­gether they could pick it up if they wanted to.

Only once was Duke afraid dur­ing his short time on the lu­nar sur­face. Know­ing the Olympics were tak­ing place on Earth, he thought it would be fun to try a big un­scripted jump with only 1/6th of the earth’s grav­ity. The only prob­lem was that his back­pack was as heavy as he was and caused him to fall back­ward. He quickly real­ized that if that vi­tal equip­ment had been dam­aged … he was dead. With great re­lief he dis­cov­ered that ev­ery­thing still worked. Hous­ton was not im­pressed and or­dered them back into the space­craft.

The moon mis­sion lasted 11 days splash­ing down in the Pa­cific on April 27. An­other chap­ter in space his­tory had been writ­ten.

Life af­ter the Moon

Duke re­turned a na­tional hero. He was 36 years old. What would he do now? At first, life was full of travel and speak­ing en­gage­ments. He con­tin­ued in the space pro­gram be­fore re­tir­ing as a brigadier gen­eral in 1975.

He seemed to have it all — fame, fam­ily and fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity — but he felt some­thing was miss­ing. He lacked real peace and pur­pose in his life. Maybe more money was the an­swer. So he put his en­ergy into a new busi­ness en­ter­prise.

Mean­while, his mar­riage was on the verge of di­vorce. And his wife, Dorothy, was on the verge of sui­cide. They had both at­tended church for years. Look­ing back he re­al­izes that he was a “churchian” but not a true Chris­tian. He con­fessed that this verse de­scribed him well — “These peo­ple draw near to Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Isa­iah 29:13) That changed for Dorothy In 1975.

Feel­ing des­per­ate and hav­ing tried ev­ery­thing else, she de­cided to try Je­sus. They at­tended a “Faith Alive” re­newal week­end dur­ing which sev­eral be­liev­ers shared their tes­ti­monies. They seemed to have a love and joy that the Dukes lacked and cred­ited it to a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with God through Je­sus. Dorothy prayed to ac­cept Je­sus into her life as her per­sonal Sav­ior. Her life be­gan to change. She was able to forgive her hus­band for years of ne­glect and lack of love. She no longer thought of di­vorce or sui­cide. She had found Some­one who could meet her deep­est needs that no hus­band could.

For Char­lie, this spir­i­tual dis­cov­ery came three years later in 1978. They had joined a Bi­ble study, which met at a ten­nis club. He read verses like John 3:16 and John 14:6 and thought to him­self, “This is ei­ther the truth or a lie.” He chose to be­lieve, re­pented of his sins, and sur­ren­dered his life to the Lord. His life, too, be­gan to change. Grad­u­ally, his ex­plo­sive tem­per and love of money be­gan to fade. His re­la­tion­ship with his wife im­proved and their mar­riage was re­stored. He also real­ized he needed to bless his chil­dren with words of af­fir­ma­tion in­stead of crit­i­cism. He ex­pe­ri­enced a new love for ev­ery­one.

Char­lie Duke is now 83. As he closed his talk he said this, “I won’t be around for many more years, but I want you all to know this. We all can’t walk on the moon but we can all walk with Je­sus and that’s far more im­por­tant. It’s a free gift that my wife and I have ac­cepted. We hope and pray that you will too.”

SUP­PLIED PHOTO

Rob Weatherby was ‘over the moon’ to meet Apollo 16 as­tro­naut Char­lie Duke Jr. (left) re­cently at the an­nual Prayer Lun­cheon in Ni­a­gara Falls.

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