Charles Duke had been on the Moon almost three days when he thought he’d killed himself. Wearing best UK replica Omega Speedmaster watches, Duke and his fellow Apollo 16 astronaut Commander John Young had decided to make their last moments on the lunar surface uniquely memorable, and given this was 1972 and an Olympic year, they’d come up the “Moon Olympics”.
These would begin with their version of the high jump and a record attempt – how high could they leap in one sixth gravity? Even suited up, on the Moon Duke only weighed around 30kg. His attempt was short-lived. When he jumped, he overbalanced and began tumbling backwards. “It was a moment of fear,” he says, his memories of half a century ago still fresh. “But fear is not a bad emotion if you don’t panic. If you respond with training and discipline, fear can get you motivated. And that’s what happened.”
He goes on: “I had this thought: roll right. So I landed on my right hand and leg, and that was just enough cushion not to break the backpack – and the life support system.” Footage shows Duke disappearing behind some apparatus as he falls, his commentary cut short as he anticipates the worst. It never came. Duke was chastened, Mission Control was livid, and the Moon Olympics ended before the first round of the first event had been completed.
Fifty years may have passed, but Duke, who is in London as an ambassador for the Swiss watch company Omega fake watches for men and to mark the 50-year anniversary of Apollo 16, recalls it with great relish, almost as if it were yesterday. I can tell he’s dined out on his Olympic-sized misstep before, and the memory, black and white to the rest of us, flows from him in vivid technicolour.
His mood shifts when I ask him about his return to Earth. Now in his eighties, Duke was just 36 when he walked on the Moon, the tenth and youngest of the 12 men to have stepped foot on the lunar surface. By December 1972, the Apollo programme was over and, like many of his fellow astronauts, Duke wondered if he could ever experience such highs again.
“The thought occurred to me, ‘what are you gonna do now?’” he says, his warm southern drawl tinged with anxiety. “I’ve climbed the top of the ladder. I tried working on the Space Shuttle for three years, but it wasn’t the same dynamics. So I took my eyes off the Moon and put them on money.”
With disarming candour, Duke admits his post-Apollo workaholism led him down a dark path, and nearly cost his wife Dotty her life. “It got so bad that she was considering suicide,” he says, dropping his glance. “I can fix the washing machine, but I can’t fix suicide.”
In the mid-1970s, the battling couple found themselves in church with friends, who prayed for them. Duke remembers being unmoved. But Dotty had a powerful conversion experience. “Over two months, I watched her change from sadness to joy,” he says. “That started a healing process on her side.”
Two years later, Duke was working in the beer business, making good money. “I was frustrated still,” he recalls, smoothing his Saturn V rocket tie. “But then I had the same experience [as Dotty] and had this instant peace. From that moment on, I’ve never been frustrated.” In June this year, the Dukes will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary. Later, I’ll sit opposite a bright-eyed Dotty at dinner, and she’ll tell me the same story, including the frank details of how she planned to end her life in her car.
In the 25 minutes we spend together, Duke talks as much about God as about being a moonwalking NASA astronaut – a 20th century icon. He has the zeal and conviction of an American televangelist, only without the aggression. His story is offered as testimony, rather than an ultimatum. The temptation to ask if seeing the Earth from outer space hadn’t already changed him is too strong. Others have talked of seeing Earth from a lonely distance as a profoundly spiritual experience. His answer is indirect. “The scripture says the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the works of his hands,” he says. “We are not an accident. There’s an intelligent design. I call it God.”
The conversation only moves on when the PR tells me I’ve got time for one last question. Which means switching to the high quality Omega Speedmaster replica watches, the brand’s lodestar, the Moonwatch. Apollo crew members were issued with Swiss movements copy Omega Speedmaster watches after NASA flight-qualified it for all manned space missions. The story of how perfect Omega super clone watches’ honest 1950s racing chronograph survived a barrage of environmental tests to earn an unlikely place in the history of space exploration has become clearer in recent years. Part of the tale is how it saw off Rolex to win NASA’s affections.
The Omega Speedmaster fake watches wholesale online were state property, and when their time with the Apollo programme ended, Duke and his colleagues were asked to return them. As the lunar module pilot, Duke had used his as mechanical back-up to the computer that timed engine burn as they made their descent into the Descartes Highlands, where the lunar module landed. “If the burn was one second too long, we would crash into the Moon,” says Duke. “It was so valuable to have this accurate timepiece. The only thing was, you couldn’t forget to wind it…”
Duke’s ended up in the Smithsonian with the rest (bar Buzz Aldrin’s, which he never turned in), but at his request, NASA has since loaned it to the South Carolina State Museum, where it remains. He was the state’s first astronaut. Has he worn it since? “I haven’t,” he says. “But it’s there on the wall. Brought back a lot of memories.” Including, no doubt, of the Moon Olympics.