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Friday, 12 November 2010

My Afternoon With A MoonWalker

I was lucky enough to see Charlie Duke at the recent ISMM Successful Selling show just before the October half term break. You may not of heard of Charles Moss Duke Junior but he was the tenth man on the moon (and he actually admitted himself that on no occasion EVER has anyone on a plane said “hey you’re the guy that flew to the moon aren’t you!”). In addition he was pretty integral to the Apollo missions to the moon. Not only an astronaut he was also the “voice of Houston” (the man who spoke on the first lunar landing “the Eagle has landed” and he was also the guy in Apollo 13 operating all of the simulators back on earth that helped ensure Jim Lovell (the Tom Hanks character), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), and Fred Haise returned safely.

It was a spine tingling hour presentation and here’s some of the perhaps lesser known stuff that I found BRILLIANT!

1. Charlie Duke has just upgraded his blackberry and it has 8GB of memory, pretty standard on today’s smartphones. This is 100,000 times more memory than was in the onboard computer in the command module during the Apollo missions!

2. From Kennedy’s ‘Moon Goal’ speech, the one that went “We’ll place a man on the moon and return him safely before the decade is out” to actually achieving it was just 8 years and 2 months. This was one unbelievably bold and “Definite, specific goal” which Charlie Duke, like most others, felt was wildly unachievable. (This is quite rightly cited as probably the ultimate example of good goal setting practise - setting a goal, stating an end date to achieve the goal, putting measures in place to know you were on the right path and keeping it on record!) To put into some historical context the boldness of this speech the US Space programme In 1961 had really just started. In May 1961 NASA was still testing chimpanzee ‘manned’ flights in Project Mercury and had only just successfully sent Alan Shepherd into sub-orbital space. However just 8 years and 2 months later we’d safely landed a man on the moon and safely returned them to earth. As Charlie Duke stated if they tried today it would now take 8 years and 2 months to draw up the proposal to gain approval let alone pass through the Health and Safety risk assessment!

3. NASA gave each Astronaut $25 each day that they were away from their main base for expenses but deducted ‘board and lodging’ or meal costs. He was away for 11 days and the expense slip said “Journey: Houston – Moon – Pacific – Houston”! So his claim was for $275 minus the meal and lodging costs of $261.25. So he earned a total of $13.75 in expenses for going to the moon. Unsurprisingly he never cashed the cheque which now hangs in a frame on his wall. Priceless!

4. During the first lunar landing mission Houston lost radio contact for over 15 seconds with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin shooting across the face of the moon in the landing module. This was at a critical phase of the modules landing procedure as it flew horizontally and parallel with the moon’s surface before turning upright, turning off the engine and gently settling into the moon dust. They had calculated that there was a pile of boulders in their path so had to take evasive action. This took up valuable fuel which was already burning at a rate faster than expected. For 15 seconds the world feared that the module had run out of fuel, had shut down power or indeed had crashed on the lunar surface. The world gasped a heavy breath. 15 seconds passed and when radio contact was re-established Duke as the ‘Voice of Houston’ famously exclaimed “"Roger, Twank... Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!"

It was a brilliant afternoon with a real-life ‘moon walker’ who was extremely humble, intelligent, articulate and engaging. As they’d say back home in his native Texas “What a Guy!”.

At the event he also gave a five minute interview to the BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11656790

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