SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Fifty years ago this week, millions of Americans sat glued to their televisions as the first humans prepared to step on the moon.
The defining moment was filled with both excitement and tension, happening less than a decade after President John F. Kennedy set the ambitious goal.
"I was a young fighter pilot in Germany at the time, and when I heard him say we were going to go the moon within the decade of 1969, that was eight-and-a-half years, I said man, I mean, we can't possibly do that," said Charlie Duke.
Little did Duke know he would have a front-row seat to the historic mission, becoming an astronaut in 1966.
During the Apollo 11 mission, Duke served as Capsule Commander (CAPCOM), meaning he communicated directly with the Apollo 11 astronauts.
Duke says after the July 16, 1969 launch everything was initially running smoothly.
"We gave them a-go for descent, and they started the engine and then almost immediately we started having this series of problems," remembers Duke.
Communications were going in and out, and the landing computer was signaling an overload.
"The tension with all of these problems building up began to mount in Mission Control so the closer we got to the ground, or to the moon, the more tense it became," said Duke.
The crew was off target for the landing, forced to fly manually to find a safe spot to touch down at, with only minutes left of fuel.
"It was really tense, so you hung on every foot of altitude and every second at the end there, but we made it, with a few seconds to go," said Duke.
Duke says once he heard the following words from Neil Armstrong it was as if a big balloon popped, dissolving all of the tension in Mission Control.
"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," Armstrong said as the Eagle landing module reached the moon's surface on July 20.
"Roger, Twank ...Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue here. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!" Duke replied.
Duke was honored by the San Diego Air & Space Museum for his role in the Apollo 11 mission, as well as his lunar landing in 1972.
"When I stepped on the moon, it was, I'm on the moon. The beauty of it, the wonder, and excitement and the adventure, all of those emotions and feelings rolled into one," said Duke.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on Saturday, June 20.
- Family-friendly event kicks off at 6 p.m.
- Special presentation of a new documentary at 8:30 p.m.