Charisma —Where were you? If you were alive when man first walked on the moon 43 years ago, chances are this moment is forever etched in your memory.
An event arguably as big as any in the history of the United States, Neil Armstrong’s first steps came on television at 10:56 p.m. (EDT) on July 20, 1969.
Charlie Duke remembers. How could he not?
The Capcom astronaut for that Apollo 11 mission entrusted with communicating with Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their landing on the lunar surface, Duke could hardly breathe in those final minutes. The mission was in real danger of aborting and Duke was the sole communication link from mission control to the astronauts hovering over the moon.
“Very intense, very hectic,” Duke remembers that night in Houston. “We experienced a lot of communication problems, data dropouts, computer overload warnings. But we kept going.”
Hanging in the balance was nearly a decade worth of grueling work to fulfill President Kennedy’s 1961 dream and promise to put a man on the moon—and return him to Earth safely—by the end of the decade.
They were so close. The moon’s surface was in view. But the area was too rocky and more fuel was needed to blast past the lunar module to a smoother spot.
“The gas was very critical,” Duke said. “I called 60 seconds left, then I called 30 seconds. And we still weren’t landing. We were 17 seconds from a call to abort.”
Less than 30 seconds left of gas on a three-day journey? Think the folks at NASA were biting their lower lips?
“Tension was mounting at mission control, as you can imagine,” he said. “I heard ‘Contact engine stop.’ And we knew they were on the ground.