Apollo 16 Astronaut Charles Duke, one of only 12 people and the only Texan to walk on the moon, was quite surprised to learn he would be the 2020 Texas Legislative Conference’s Texan of the year, he said.
Duke, 84, was especially shocked, given some of the Texas legends, Country Music superstar George Strait, for example, to previously hold the title, he said.
“I was told I was selected and sort of went, ‘are you sure?’” Duke said.
Organizers of the annual statewide policy and business forum, now in its 54th year, announced the astronaut and retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general as the Texan of the Year on Tuesday at Space Center Houston, flanked by former colleagues at NASA along with several other groups.
“It’s great that you’ve chosen to honor Charlie Duke with this award,” said Mark Geyer, the director of Johnson Space Center. “It’s not just for his history as an astronaut, but also what he’s accomplished since then.”
Duke, who grew up in South Carolina but has lived in Texas since 1975, served as the capsule communicator, CAPCOM, for the Apollo 11 mission, answering Neil Armstrong’s “the Eagle has landed” statement to signify a safe moon trip in July 1969, officials said.
Duke would later become the youngest man to walk on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972. That was the first expedition to inspect and sample materials in the Descartes region of the rugged lunar highlands, officials said.
“Gen. Duke is a pioneer, who embodies the spirit of ingenuity and discovery,” said William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston. “He continues to be an inspiration to future generations as we move forward in pursuit of new ideas and advancements in human space exploration.”
While most known for his work at NASA, Duke also spent much of his time Tuesday detailing his passions and interest in the greater Texas community, from coaching children in athletics to inspiring students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, he said.
Duke and his wife, Dorothy, have lived in New Braunfels many years, officials said.
“When I first moved there, there were something like 18,000 residents,” Duke said. “Now, it’s about 80,000 — it’s growing like weeds.”
New Braunfels’ growth mirrors change Duke sees in places around Johnson Space Center, such as League City, where he once lived in a small apartment, he said.
“There are a lot of beautiful houses that have been added,” he said. “Back then, from the east side of League City out to the bay, there was almost nothing.”
Duke will be honored on March 26 at the New Braunfels Civic and Convention Center, joining honorees since 1974 that include presidents, U.S. senators, entertainers, governors and business icons, officials said.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith was the most recent Texan of the Year before Duke, officials said.