On April 16th 1972 Apollo 16 blasted off from Cape Kennedy on a 12-day round trip to the moon.
Leading the crew was John Young and his colleagues Tom Mattingly and Charles Duke.
Apollo 16’s landing site was the central highlands of the moon, 19,000 feet higher than the flat Sea of Tranquility on which Neil Armstrong first landed. The astronauts took with them the lunar rover “moon car” that proved so successful on Apollo 15.
Duke, who piloted Apollo 16 is part of a tiny fraternity that is getting even smaller: People who have walked on the moon.
Duke, 86, visited his Apollo 16 capsule on Wednesday (20th April 2022) at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to mark the 50th anniversary of his one and only trip to the lunar surface.
Only four of the 12 U.S. astronauts who walked on the moon are still alive. These days Duke mostly keeps busy with speaking engagements.
He says he still has vivid memories from the journey, which was the penultimate U.S. mission to land on the moon.
His face lights up during an interview recalling his memories of stepping off the lunar lander onto the dusty surface.
“I mean, ‘I’m on the moon!’ I can’t believe it. Even today it’s an exciting thought,” he says.
The late John Young was first out of the lander and walked on the moon with Duke, while Ken Mattingly orbited the moon in the command module, nicknamed “Casper”.
Duke said the United States got busy with the space shuttle program, the space station and remote missions into deep space after Apollo ended, and he doesn’t hold it against NASA for failing to return to the moon.
But he is looking forward to NASA’s upcoming flight to the moon with its new Space Launch System rocket which is at the core of the Artemis program.
The first of the huge rockets is supposed to blast off for a trip to the moon without a crew later this year, and Duke hopes he can attend the first flight with a crew within a few years.
“The moon was really a beautiful environment. Desolate, but yet it had beauty about it,” he says.
“The different contrasts, the mountains that we saw. The blackness of space on the surface of the moon and shades of gray. It just was very captivating.”