The last couple of weeks have seen blockbusters of varying budgets hit our screens.
Prometheus, Ridley Scott's vast epic "in the same universe as Alien", explores the possibility that mankind's origins deserted Earth through their own volition - reasons to be discovered, perhaps, in the tantalisingly hinted-at sequel - and made a new life for themselves on another planet.
Iron Sky, meanwhile, details a what-if scenario of defeated Nazis fleeing our planet and making a home for themselves on the dark side of the moon while they plot their ill-intentioned return in 2018. Funded by crowd-sourcing and released to an agog audience in a controversial distribution plan that involved only putting it in UK cinemas for one day – much to the consternation of its makers – it has nevertheless pulled in the crowds and garnered itself a place in the country’s Box Office top ten.
Solitude in outer space, needn't be a lonely experience - as WALL-E discovered
So, we obviously can’t help ourselves, and remain ever-intrigued by the possibility of life out there. What’s more frightening – the idea that there isn’t life beyond our orbit, or that there is?
HuffPostUK decided to ask someone of more authority than most – Charlie Duke, the man whose calm voice became famous around the globe in 1969 when he spoke from NASA’s HQ to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they set foot on the moon, telling them: “Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!"
That was Apollo 11, but Duke made his own foray to the moon in 1972, part of Apollo 16 – to this day one of only 12 men to walk on its surface. So what does he think of the possibility that an intelligent life force, human or otherwise, could establish themselves out there?
“It certainly is possible to construct a moon base in such a way that crews could stay for extended periods of time,” Charlie Duke tells me on the phone, his voice still immediately familiar 40 years later.
“50/60 years ago, we wouldn’t have thought we’d have a base in Antarctica and people stay there for months at a time, so I think the same thing could definitely happen.”
Duke has a very special place in NASA’s history – his dulcet tones going around the world as Armstrong and Aldrin touched down on the moon – but at the time he was just “doing my job”:
“I had no idea that it would go where it did. I just wanted to do the best job I could, of course, not make any mistakes on this historic mission. At the time it was more of a technical challenge than anything, but it’s obviously become a big part of my life.”
It was a calm-sounding Charlie Duke, who talked Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin down the ladder when they made their Moon landing in 1969
While the global audience sat on the edge of their seats in excitement and fear, how did Duke himself feel?
“Completely calm,” he replies, proving himself to be made of the celebrated 'right stuff'.
“If you watch the video, you see the concentration on our faces, and there was an intensity about it, especially the last minute, because we were so close to the fuel running out, so that required a lot of concentration.”
And were men really turning blue? “They really were. I wasn’t trying to exaggerate.”
Three years later, Duke found himself on the moon, a bit challenged by drilling into the moon surface – “that was a bit complicated” he says with admirable sang-froid, but completely at ease with his awe-inspiring surroundings:
“It felt so comfortable. I was amazed that our balance was so good, I felt no tribulation about falling off. Plus, we had trained for everything… and we had good communications with each other, so it never felt like you were isolated or detached – just one of a team working hard.”
On his return home, armed with a few souvenir maps and checklists, plus some moon debris that had blown into the command module, Duke was feted in his home town, where “my parents’ buttons were popping off, they were so proud”.
But in a manner that many of the so-called celebrities of the modern era would do well to note, it was soon back to the business of “being a regular astronaut – mowing the lawn, being a father and husband, putting out the trash”.
It is extremely moving, as a longtime moon-gazer, to speak to Charlie Duke about his experiences, particularly what he has taken away from his journey to the moon:
“When you look back, the smallness of the Earth is what you notice. At the time I was absorbed by the technical side of the operation, but I hope the pictures we took helped people to see the planet as an ecological, environmental place worth protecting.
What does Duke think of the conspiracy-theorists convinced he and his colleagues never made it where they said they did?
“I chuckle when I hear that. For years, we’ve heard those arguments and defended them, but it’s got easier with the Comet now taking pictures of the moon. And there in the middle of the frame is the Apollo landing site, and the leftovers of our experiments. So it’s pretty undeniable that we were there.”
For Duke, the limitations of NASA’s space exploration programme is a “huge missed opportunity for people from different countries to have a common focus, to face technological challenges together and find some unity”.
Charlie Duke went to the Moon in 1972, as part of the Apollo 16 mission
But the Moon’s fascination for him remains:
“Only yesterday, I was at my son’s house, and we had a splashdown party to celebrate the anniversary of our return home, and there was the moon up there, and it was in exactly the same place as when we went there. Everyone asked, ‘Where did you land?’ and I pointed, ‘Right there.’ It seems very familiar to me.”
And Charlie Duke remains very aware of the responsibility that comes with being part of such an elite, talented but privileged club of travellers…
“We have to be examples to the next generation, to encourage them to accept technological challenges and innovations.
I just hope the mountains we climbed will help to share that, to challenge the younger people to see beyond what we did, and encourage them to study, take care of themselves and see what the future will bring.”
Prometheus is in UK cinemas, Iron Sky is in selected UK cinemas and available on DVD and Blu-Ray now. Here are some pictures of both...
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