Breaking News
More () »

New Orleans's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | New Orleans, Louisiana | WWLTV.com

Voice of Mission Control remembers the heart-stopping moments before Apollo 11 moon landing

Charlie Duke became famous as the voice of Mission Control for Apollo 11 before taking his own trip to the moon years later

This story was originally aired on Aug. 8, 2011 and has been re-published as part of WWL-TV's coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

You may think it's hard to impress a man who has walked on the moon, but the National World War Two museum did just that.  

“The amazing capability that the US had to turn out economy around and to start this war production, if you will, where we could build one plane an hour out of one Ford plant and thousands of tanks and vehicles and ships,” Charlie Duke said in awe as he made his was through the museum.

Those who served then inspired this American icon to launch a military career, becoming a Brigadier General in the US Airforce. 

Apollo 16 lunar module pilot Charlie Duke often comes from his home in Texas to enjoy what the Earth has to offer in Southeast Louisiana. This time, to catch bull reds in Barataria Bay. 

RELATED: Apollo 11 astronauts returning to launch pad 50 years later

College students at the museum didn't know much about the 12 moon walkers, but to Baby Boomers he is a star.  

It will be 40 years in April since Charlie Duke walked on the moon.

“You’re overcome with the desolation. You’re amazed with the beauty of it,” Duke said. “It’s pristine, unspoiled, the sharp divide between the gray of the moon and the blackness of space is vividly in my mind now.”

The family picture he left on the surface of the moon curled in the 230 degree lunar temperature. One moment of fear was when he thought he had damaged his life support back pack.

RELATED: Apollo 11 at 50: Celebrating first steps on another world

“We told mission control we were going ot try to set the high jump records, so we started bouncing like this and when I jumped, my back pack weighed as much as I did, so when I jumped I straightened up and I fell over backwards!”

Charlie Duke was also the capcom, or capsule communicator, for Apollo 11. The voice the world heard talking to Neil Armstrong. He remembers when The Eagle was seconds away from being out a fuel before its lunar landing.

“At the last minute, I called 60 seconds, which meant he had 60 seconds to land and I called 30 seconds and about 13, 14 seconds later he landed!” Duke remembered. “Then he came back with Houston, ‘Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed!’ and I was so excited I couldn’t pronounce Tranquility! It came out ‘twang’ at first, but I finally got it straight and so it was ‘roger Tranquility, we copy you. On the ground you got a bunch of guys to turn blue. We’re breathing again,’ and literally we were holding out breath in mission control it was so tense.”

RELATED: Notable quotes from the Apollo 11 moon landing

And imagine this, the cellphone in his pocket now has 100,000 times the memory of the Apollo computer. Today, he calls it a tragedy that the US is paying Russie to take its astronauts to space.

“When we won the Space Race and landed on the moon, the whole world looked to us to provide the technological leadership and that was a tremendous advantage for our economy,” Duke said. “So it’s not just spending money on the moon, it’s spending money to develop technologies that could get us to the moon, that could get on to Mars, but then from that how do we use this? People will start looking to China for the technological leadership that they’ve been looking to us for over 50 years.”

It only took 8 years and 2 months from President Kennedy’s lunar mission concept to completion.

RELATED: Back to the Moon? NASA says it starts in New Orleans

“From the time Kennedy announced the Apollo program until we did it in July of ’69, it was 8 years and 2 months from conception to completion of the mission,” Duke said. “Today, I doubt you could write the proposal in 8 years and 2 months, much less do it!”

And despite his place in US History, he doesn’t consider himself an American hero.

“We did a job, we were excited about it,” Duke said. “We all volunteered because we were adventurers and we were explorers.”