Fifty years ago Apollo 16, Duke “I risked my life playing sports on the Moon”.

by Antonio Lo Campo

“Apollo 16, eighth mission with Moon destination and fifth with descent of men on the lunar surface. The penultimate mission of the Apollo project, since in the American space programs there are no further trips to the Moon for the seventies. With this launch, therefore, a chapter in the history of astronautics is about to end, which has given man a new image of the Earth, and a new awareness of his own strength”. That was the comment of famed RAI space commentator Tito Stagno at the start of the April 16, 1972 special. Apollo 16 was about to depart from ramp 39A at Cape Kennedy, with astronauts John Young ( mission commander) on board, Charles Duke (lunar module pilot) and Thomas Mattingly (command module pilot). n perfect launch in clear Florida skies, with a million spectators at NASA Space Center (Apollo 11 record reached) thanks to the fact that it was Sunday, and with almost summer weather. But it was the fifth moon landing and the exploits of Apollo aroused less and less enthusiasm. Yet Apollo 16 is one of the longest and most spectacular lunar missions, and not without dramatic moments. Charles Duke himself tells us about it, in an interview in Turin for an event organized by the Asimof Association with the Infini.to Planetarium and in collaboration with “La Stampa”. Duke went to the moon with Young on April 21, 50 years ago; problems that raised fears of the moon landing, in a situation similar to the dramatic ones of Apollo 13, a mission in which Duke was part of the reserve crew and Mattingly was even intended for the mission, but discarded at the last minute for suspicion of rubella virus and replaced by Swigert. And then, a curious episode told by Duke: “I wanted to celebrate the Munich Olympics, make an unattainable high jump record, taking advantage of the reduced lunar gravity. Instead, I fell backwards and took a big risk”. At NASA, from Houston, they immediately said, “Now stop playing around!”. US Air Force General Charlie Duke was Houston’s communicator with Armstrong and Aldrin in 1969 for the first moon landing. It was then a reserve for Apollo 13, then a title for Apollo 16. Young, during his fourth space flight, and Duke, remained on lunar soil until April 23, exploring the region of Descartes’ lunar mountains on foot and with the special lunar jeep (Lunar Roving Vehicle), then joined the Apollo spacecraft in lunar orbit piloted by Mattingly, and landed in the Pacific on April 27. It remains one of the lunar missions having obtained the most results, with in particular the assembly by Duke of an ultraviolet telescope, and the collection of 90 kg of samples and lunar rocks.

by Antonio Lo Campo


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