When Charles Moss Duke Jr. stepped out of the Apollo 16 module and onto the moon, he wasn't looking for God and certainly didn't find any kind of higher being among the gray dust and rocks 200,000 miles from Earth.
No, it took another seven years for Duke to realize all the celebrity that comes with being one of a dozen men to walk on the moon doesn't guarantee the peace that comes with a devoted spiritual life, he told an appreciative audience in Sequim on Friday morning.
"I felt that if I got to the moon, I'd be satisfied," he told early risers at the 12th annual Clallam County Prayer Breakfast. "Only God can satisfy us on the inside."
Duke, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general and astronaut, was the featured speaker at Friday's breakfast, a forum for civic, business and community members. The group heard from several speakers, Christian messages from old and new testaments, music and more, but what captivated the crowd was Duke.
Duke attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force, where he was a fighter pilot, test pilot and, after encouragement from Chuck Yeager, an astronaut for NASA. He served as part of the support crew for Apollo 10 and Apollo 11, and as the backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 13.
As part of the Apollo 16 crew, Duke and fellow astronaut John Young stepped on the moon on April 20, 1972. The two set a record for a lunar surface stay of 71 hours, 14 minutes, each hour in sunlight.
"I was in awe of the moon," Duke said. "I felt right at home. For 72 hours it was, 'Yahoo!' Here we are, bouncing up and down like (children). I didn't want to come back."
Despite the popularity of the space program, walking on the moon didn't make Duke rich or at peace with his family.
"We came back as heroes, but it was fleeting," Duke told the breakfast crowd. "I believed in God, I honored God on Sundays. I claimed to be a Christian, but it was in words only. What I followed in my life ... was my career."
The astronaut was not grounded by gravity but by the faith of his wife, Dorothy, and friends at a Bible study he attended in 1979 at a tennis club where, as Duke put it, "God showed up."
Now Duke is a keynote and motivational speaker. He and his wife live in New Braunfels, Texas, and celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary this year.
The retired astronaut said he gets all sorts of questions about his experiences, mostly about what the moon was like.
"We're all in our 70s," Duke remarked, noting nine of the 12 moon walkers are still alive. "Most of us want to go back. NASA has said, 'Don't call us; we'll call you.'"
Duke told Friday morning's crowd that though he may be in a prestigious group of astronauts, he still has plenty in common with those of the Christian faith.
"I walked on the moon for three days; we can't walk on the moon together, but we can walk together with God," Duke said. "That's a good deal."
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