Fifty years ago, General Charlie Duke Jr took his first steps on the moon.
He was only the tenth man to do so since Neil Armstrong made history three years earlier on July 20, 1969.
Although there has been a long hiatus in manned missions to Earth’s rocky neighbor, the march of technology has not been stagnant in orbit.
As anticipation builds ahead of the US Artemis Moonshot, the Apollo 16 astronaut reflected on the computer systems that took him to the moon and back.
“Our Apollo computer had 80k of memory,” he said.
“We had five programs and 80k of memory and my mobile phone has 800,000 times the memory of my Apollo computer and it’s in my pocket. It’s just amazing,’
Sharing his insights with Carol Vorderman and British astronaut Tim Peake in front of a young audience at the RIAT airshow last month, Charlie, 86, spoke about his role in the April 20, 1972 moon landing and the technology behind it. the.
“I was the second out of the lunar module because of the way the hatch opens,” he recalled. ‘I was on the right side of the spacecraft and the commander was on the left.
‘So I opened the hatch and got stuck behind the hatch, so he goes out first and the commander always has the speech, you don’t try to outdo the commander. When I came out it was amazing, I kept saying “fantastic” because I was so excited to walk on the moon.
“We were very excited during the landing and the first steps towards the moon were just extraordinary for me, it was wonderful, exciting, excited, adventure, all those emotions.
“But I didn’t have a speech, I was just thinking, ‘I’m over the moon.'”
Charlie was involved in the technology foundation work, including the design of the lunar rover, which had to be built for the Apollo missions to achieve extraordinary advances in computing and science.
The guidance computer behind the missions worked through a calculator-style instrument panel that required astronauts to enter or check numerical codes from a flight manual.
The programming had safeguards against computer failure, but it only had as much memory as a modern digital wristwatch, according to the Science Museum in London.
Charlie, now an ambassador for spaceflight, hopes that current technological advances will help humanity return to the lunar surface in the next five years, which could be followed by an ever-increasing leap to Mars.
The first milestone in a new era of space travel is due on August 29, when NASA is scheduled to launch an unmanned rocket to travel 40,000 miles beyond the moon.
The flight is the first in the Artemis program aimed at returning humans to the surface and establishing a permanent camp.
The former US Air Force test pilot spoke of his anticipation for the planned lunar return, which came into the spotlight this week when the rocket moved to a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
“I’m trying to make everyone successful,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tremendous return to the moon and having a lunar base, so to speak.”
Artemis, which is underway 53 years after Neil Armstrong’s first steps, aims to land the first woman and person of color on the moon, as well as establish a base camp to ensure a long-term presence.
The technological advance is aimed at delivering what NASA describes as the “next giant leap”: sending the first astronauts to Mars.
Charlie is also an ambassador for The Endeavor Scholarship, founded by Apollo 15 command module pilot Colonel Al Worden to produce a new generation of explorers.
Charlie said: ‘I tell every young person I talk to that you never know where your professional career will take you.
‘Always study something that is interesting and keeps you focused.
‘Don’t study physics because you think you need physics for the space program if your focus is the astronaut.
‘If you study physics and you don’t like physics for a degree and they cancel the space program, you’re in trouble.
“So I tell everyone to focus on something they love to do and don’t know where their career will take them.
‘I would encourage children to study hard, take care of themselves physically and stay motivated and focused on their studies.’
NASA’s new 322-foot rocket was removed from its hangar at the Kennedy Space Center to make the four-mile trip to Cape Canaveral earlier this week.
In the absence of humans, the lunar test flight, using the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, will carry three dummies equipped with sensors that measure radiation and vibration.
After orbiting the cratered Earth satellite for two weeks, it is scheduled to fall into the Pacific after traveling a total distance of 1.3 million miles.
It is intended to be the first Moonshot on Artemis, with astronauts orbiting the moon two years from now before landing on the surface in 2025.
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