Above: Charlie Duke in the 2017 documentary ‘Mission Control’. Source: IMDB
Only 12 people have ever walked on Earth’s great yellow Satellite we call the moon, and only six of those are still alive. One of them is Charlie Duke.
Charlie not only stepped onto the moon in 1972 as an astronaut with the Apollo 16 mission – but also played a vital role in the historic first-landing in 1969, as “Capsule Communicator”. It’s his voice we hear, complete with southern drawl, speaking to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from down on the ground in Houston, Texas.
In his 2009 and 2012 interviews with Hope 103.2 announcers Sheridan Voysey, Aaron Wright and Erin La Macchia, Charlie spoke about his years of restlessness after his moon mission – and how faith in Jesus changed everything. Following are excerpts from those interviews.
Chatting with Charlie Duke
Walking on the Moon “Wasn’t a Spiritual Experience”
Aaron: When you’re launching off and when you’re on the moon and making these really dangerous moves, is that when the belief in God sort of stirs up in astronauts?
Charlie: No. Actually, it did not. We were focused on the adventure of it. The technical side, the operational side. I can’t recall having any significant encounter or thinking about God on the moon. It wasn’t a spiritual experience for me. It wasn’t a philosophical experience. That all developed six years later for me.
Now one astronaut on Apollo 15, Jim Irwin, he was a committed believer before he went and he did quote some scripture on some of the psalms and saw God’s handiwork. Gene Cernan said, after you have an experience like that, you got to believe there’s a God. Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 had communion on the lunar surface. So there was some spiritual aspect to it – but not on our flight.
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Driven for Success, Lacking in Peace
Sheridan: Back in April of 1972, you were driven for success and driven in your career. But once you’ve walked on the moon… describe your emotional state after Apollo 16.
Charlie: Well, after Apollo 16, I was pumped up, as you can imagine, having just experienced this great adventure. And I wanted to go again. So I volunteered for a backup crew for Apollo 17 for the outside chance of maybe going to the moon again. Well, didn’t work. They stayed healthy and the primary crew flew. And after that was over, it was January of 1973, so it was like 9 months later after we flew and now Apollo was over.
And the thought did occur to me, “Okay, now what are you gonna do with the rest of your life? You’re 37-years-old, you’ve had this great experience, you’ve climbed the top of the ladder. How are you gonna top this, buddy?” I began to look around trying to find what was satisfying. I’ve worked on Space Shuttle, it was exciting but not as thrilling as Apollo. I took my eyes off the moon and put them on money… [I thought] making a business and making a lot of money would satisfy this drive that I still had.
You see, in my heart, that drive that took me to the moon was still there. And while I was satisfied for a while now, I was still motivated to do something, to bring this peace and satisfaction and purpose to my life. But business didn’t do it. It was only later on, about 6 years later, when I really found out the answer that I was searching for.
“God, If You’re Not Real… I Wanna Die”
Sheridan: Your wife was going through her own dark valleys… depression, even suicidal feelings?
Charlie: Yes. And that was a real shock to me of course. We had been married nine years, when I went to the moon, and then, the ensuing three years after that was very tough on Dotty. She thought that, when the moon flights were over, we could work on our marriage because it was under a lot of stress and strain at that point – me gone all the time, training, anxious; she’s anxious about my safety, etcetera, two little kids to raise. So there was a lot of stress on her life and she wanted to work on her marriage, after I got back, but it turned out that I was still driven.
“Well there really is a God, and Jesus came into her life. And I watched her change from sadness to joy…”
And she was saying, “Well, I’ll never have a happy marriage”, and so she tried a number of things to find her direction. But nothing worked for her – until some people came to our church in October, 1975, on what was called a Faith Alive weekend. And these people had a personal relationship with Jesus, and they had a peace and a joy and a purpose in their life – and they said Jesus brought it to them.
And they related their stories, some similar to what Dotty was going through, and how they had experienced a transformation. So, after that weekend, she prayed, “God, I don’t know whether you’re real,” and, “Jesus, I don’t know whether you’re the Son of God, but if you are, give me my life. If you’re not, I wanna die”.
Well there really is a God, and Jesus came into her life. And I watched her change from sadness to joy over the next three to four months, and things really started getting better at home… So Dotty, over the next two and a half years, she just began to change, and love me, and our home began to have a peace in it.
Charlie Finds His Own Faith in Jesus
And after I sold this business, finding out money wasn’t the answer, we were invited to a Bible study…And at that point of my life, I realized that I had to make a decision that Jesus was really the Son of God, or the biggest liar that ever walked, and scriptures that I’d learned in Sunday school years ago began to come back.
And it was, “Is this true or is it not true? It’s either true or it isn’t. There’s no maybe, you know, there’s no riding a fence. And Jesus is either who he says he is, who died for our sins that we might have eternal life or he’s a big liar. We get to make up our minds. We have free will. We can receive it, believe it, accept it in a heartfelt way, and our life will be transformed by His power. And we can walk with God. Or we can turn away and say, ‘I don’t need any of this,’ and enter eternity without God.”
It’s amazing how God loves us but he doesn’t make us robots and we can choose to be obedient, and follow, and experience the joy, and the love, and the piece of God. And that’s what happened in my life when I said, “Yes, Lord.”
“Our Marriage Was Healed, My Family Was Healed”
Erin: Tell us about your faith journey.
Charlie: My wife came to faith in 1975…And I watched her change. And two and a half years later on April 1978 I gave my heart to Jesus after a weekend Bible study… And that started my walk. I began to read the scriptures, devour the scriptures… As I read the Scripture, God began to convict me of my lifestyle, of my lack of love for my family and my priorities in life… And it’s clear that you were to seek first the Kingdom of God and all the other things ‘shall be added unto you’. So we started building our relationship, through forgiveness and love. and walking together with Jesus through our marriage, which was healed. My family was healed. The Lord gave me the ability to put Him first in my life.
And so since that time we’ve been traveling the world, sharing our story and it’s been a blessing to be able to not only challenge others but share the deep, real love that Jesus has for all mankind.
“You Can Travel to the Moon and Still Be Empty”
Sheridan: The thing that I find amazing… is that you can travel to the moon and back and still be spiritually empty.
Charlie: Right. You know… it wasn’t a spiritual experience for me going to the moon … I realized that what was really my God in those days was my career. I’d put career first in my life. And career is not God, money is not God, sex is not God, idols are not God. You know, there’s only one God, His name is Jesus, and if you put anything else above Him in your life, you’re gonna be empty. Sooner or later, you’re gonna end up disappointed.
Aaron: It’s so good to hear… that God was able to fill that void in your life.
Charlie: In Jesus, I found a peace that I was searching for and the purpose of my life… A walk on the moon was very exciting. I’d do it again. I’m still physically qualified to do it, but NASA says, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’. And it lasted for three days. But a walk with Jesus lasts forever, and it’s been a very exciting adventure.
- A Terrifying Moment at the ‘Moon Olympics’: A Chat with Charlie Duke, 10th Man on the Moon
- See the full-length interview by Sheridan Voysey
- See the full-length interview by Aaron & Erin
- God, Man and the Moon: Hope Celebrates 50 Years Since Apollo 11
- Learn more at charlieduke.com, and in Charlie’s book & DVD, Moonwalker.