Charles Duke, Jr. was born October 3, 1935, in Charlotte, North Carolina but was raised in Pageland, South Carolina. After attending Lancaster High School in Lancaster, South Carolina, he graduated as valedictorian from the Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1953. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Naval Sciences from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1957, and a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. He graduated from the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School in 1965 and was given an honorary Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1973.
In 1957, upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy, Duke was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Air Force. He went to Spence Air Base, Georgia, for primary flight training and then to Webb Air Force Base, Texas for basic flying training, graduating with distinction in 1958. He was again a distinguished graduate at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia after completing advanced training in F-86L aircraft. He became an astronaut in 1966. Charles Duke has logged 4,147 hours flying time, including 3,632 hours in jet aircraft.
In 1969 Duke was a member of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 10 flight. He was CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) for Apollo 11, the first landing on the Moon and was backup Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 13 in 1970.
Charles Duke was the Lunar Module pilot for the Apollo 16 mission, launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 16, 1972. With him were John W. Young, Mission Commander, and Thomas K. Mattingly II, Command Module pilot. Apollo 16 was the second in a series of three science-oriented manned lunar missions. Its major objective was to investigate the lunar surface in the Descartes highlands area, considered to be representative of much of the Moon’s surface that had not been previously visited. Apollo 16 reached lunar orbit on April 19; Mattingly separated the Command Module Casper to remain in orbit while Duke and Young piloted the Lunar Module Orion to the surface.
They began their lunar surface stay of over 71 hours with a landing on the rough Cayley Plains on April 20. In three subsequent excursions onto the lunar surface, Duke and Young spent over twenty hours in extravehicular activities (EVAs), conducting emplacement and activation of scientific equipment and experiments, collecting 211 pounds of rock and soil samples, and evaluating Rover-2, a specially-designed electrical vehicle, over the roughest and blockiest surface yet encountered on the moon.
A major part of the first EVA was devoted to establishing a nuclear powered, automatic scientific station called Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package. This took over seven hours and required traveling over two and a half miles in the Rover-2. Other Apollo 16 achievements included the largest payload placed in lunar orbit (76,109 pounds); the first cosmic ray detector deployed on lunar surface; the first lunar observatory with the far UV (ultra-violet) camera; and the longest in-flight EVA from a command module during transearth coast (one hour and thirteen minutes). The latter feat was accomplished by Mattingly, in his retrieval of vital film cassettes from the panoramic and mapping cameras. After the Orion rendezvoused with Mattingly and the Casper on April 23, Apollo 16 returned to Earth, concluding with a Pacific Ocean splashdown on April 27, 1972.
With the completion of his only space flight, Charles Duke logged 265 hours in space and over 21 hours of extravehicular activity. Duke also served as backup Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 17 in December 1972. In December 1975, Charles Duke retired from the Astronaut program to enter private business. That same year he entered the Air Force Reserves where he worked in recruiting. Duke was promoted to Brigadier General in 1979. He retired from the military in June 1986.
General Duke has been awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the JSC Certificate of Commendation (1970), the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and AF Legion of Merit, and Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings, the SETP Iven C. Kincheloe Award of 1972, the AAS Flight Achievement Award for 1972, the AIAA Haley Astronautics Award for 1973, and the Federation Aéronautique Internationale V.M. Komarov Diploma in 1973; and was named South Carolina Man of the Year in 1973. He is the owner of Duke Investments and is President of Charlie Duke Enterprises. Charles Duke is an active speaker and Christian Lay witness and President of Duke Ministry For Christ.