Charlie Duke

Former astronaut Charlie Duke talked about faith issues that resulted after lunar missions.

BELTON — Although former astronaut Charlie Duke’s lunar missions marked some of his most crowning achievements, his proximity to the stars did not change his outlook on life.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Did going to the moon change you?’ And I say ‘no,’” Duke, who piloted the lunar module of Apollo 16, said. “It wasn’t a spiritual experience and it wasn’t a philosophical experience. It was a great adventure that I’d like to do again … but it didn’t change my perspective of life.”

That perspective of life, he said, did not begin to shift until he retired from National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1975 — an era when his marriage was not at its best.

“When I went to the moon (in 1972, Dorothy Claiborne) and I had been married nine years,” Duke, a New Braunfels resident, said. “In our 12th year of our marriage, we were steaming full speed towards the rocks of divorce.”

During the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s annual McLane Lecture on Wednesday at the Frank & Sue Mayborn Campus Center, Duke — who has received a myriad of honors throughout his career — detailed how his family’s lives ultimately changed for the better.

“We’d been in church ever since I can remember, growing up in South Carolina in the Bible Belt,” he said. “I got baptized and did everything you can do in church … and yet, I didn’t know Jesus. I believed in God in my mind but it wasn’t in my heart.”

For Duke, it was just going to church for one hour each week.

“But (Dorothy) was going from despair to discouragement to thoughts of suicide,” Duke said. “She played it out. If life is so bad, so hurtful … and I can’t find any satisfaction ... why live any longer?”

It was a personal suffering that did not ease until their family took what seemed like a routine trip to church.

“We were in a little Episcopal church in La Porte, Texas, when these families came to our church on a weekend called ‘faith alive,’” he said. “These people had testimony about the power of Jesus Christ changing their lives, and they had a joy and a peace about them.”

That testimony sparked his wife’s search for faith.

“She had tried everything but Jesus,” he said. “So she knelt in our bedroom privately and said, ‘Lord, I don’t know whether you’re real or not, but these people say you are … and they’ve got what I want. If you’re real, I’ll give you my life. If you’re not, I want to die.”

Over the course of two months since that prayer, Duke watched his wife slowly grow from sadness to a joy in response to her growing faith in God.

“It was unbelievable,” he said.

Yet Duke’s own journey of faith did not come as quickly.

“In (1978) I was asked to go to a Bible study … and I didn’t want to go,” he said. “To me if I’d read the Bible, I’d want to go to sleep.”

However, Duke still elected to attend the Bible study, and began to recall certain Bible verses during his time there.

“We got over the New Testament, and I started remembering these Sunday school verses I learned as a kid,” he said. “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. If you believe in Him, you’ll not perish but have everlasting life.’ That’s either true, or the biggest lie ever perpetrated on humans. But you get to decide whether it’s true or not.”

That piece of scripture lingered on Duke’s mind, as he sat in his vehicle following the Bible study.

“In the parking lot after that Sunday afternoon, I looked over and said to my wife, ‘I believe that Jesus is the Son of God’ ... and for the very first time in my life, I experienced the peace of God,” Duke said. “I repented and God began to build our marriage on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. The closer we get to God, the closer we get to one another.”

Duke told the thousands of students, faculty and community members at the Mayborn Campus Center on Wednesday that they too can be saved by the glory of God.

Luke Neading, a freshman at UMHB, loved Duke’s message that it is never too late to start following the word of the Lord.

“Even after an incredible achievement like going to the moon — something that many people have went through — he still didn’t feel fulfilled,” he told the Telegram. “But even though going to the moon didn’t fulfill him, Jesus ultimately did. I think that’s awesome.”

Like Duke, the 18-year old believes that God can use anyone wherever they may be in life.

“Even into retired life or even in a marriage that seems like it’s failing … it’s never too late for God to use you,” Neading said. “So I’m just going to constantly remember that, never give up hope and remember that nothing is impossible.”

The McLane Lecture was open to members of the public, and Dr. Harry Macey Jr. was happy he made the morning trek to UMHB from Temple.

“It was an absolutely marvelous program,” Macey, 88, said. “It was so inspiring and I’m glad that I came.”

UMHB President Randy O’Rear — who highlighted former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Chuck Norris and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig as past McLane Lecture speakers — was happy for another successful and well attended McLane Lecture.

“This is the 17th time that our dear friends Elizabeth and Drayton McLane, Jr. have sponsored this lecture. There are many blessings associated with that, and this lecture is just another example of that,” he said. “We’re very grateful.”