For generations, we have been living in a world in which something that seemed fantastic to people of the past is an established fact: we have been to the moon. The first landing was 50 years ago this coming July, and SXSW is celebrating with a featured session with former astronaut Charlie Duke, former Apollo flight director and Johnson Space Center director Gerry Griffin, current Johnson Space Center Deputy Director Vanessa Wyche, and Bobak Ferdowsi, systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“I look up at the moon, and I get this real sense of satisfaction—I’ve been there,” said Duke, who explored and conducted experiments on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission in 1972. “You can remember the general terrain when you think about your landing site, and the dramatic contrast between the bright moon and the dark sky … we felt right at home.”
“[It was] untouched, unspoiled. I never got tired of just looking around the moon.”
Duke and fellow astronaut John Young stayed on the moon for 71 hours, ranging about on foot and in a lunar rover across a 16-mile area and sleeping in hammocks in their tight lunar module spacecraft, where they tracked in dust from outside just like on any terrestrial camping trip. During their expedition, they gathered geologic samples, measured local radiation and the sun’s solar winds, and conducted other experiments.
“You weren’t overcome with the beauty of it, but it was still the most spectacular desert you could imagine,” Duke said of the lunar landscape. “[It was] untouched, unspoiled. I never got tired of just looking around the moon.”