Lunar Golf

Seriously, haven’t we all wondered about this? After reading this article, I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking “Alan Shepard Pie” should be coming right up.

Lunar Golf

A version of this New York Times article appeared in print on October 14, 2008, on page D2 of the New York edition.

Published: October 13, 2008
Q. What happened to the golf ball the astronaut hit on the Moon? Why did he hit it?

Victoria Roberts

A. Alan Shepard actually hit two balls on the Apollo 14 mission of 1971, and they are still on the Moon, he said in a 1991 interview on the Academy of Achievement Web site for students.

He was looking for a way to demonstrate what the Moon’s lack of atmosphere and much smaller gravitational force would mean for a familiar Earthbound activity, he said. Previous astronauts had dropped a small lead ball and a feather, which slowly fell at the same rate to the surface, but he wanted something more striking.

“Being a golfer,” he said, “I thought if I could just get a club up there, and get it going through the ball at the same speed, that it would go six times as far as it would have gone here on Earth.”

So with NASA’s permission, he designed a club head to fit on the handle of the device the astronauts used to scoop up dust samples. (The collapsible club was brought back to Earth and became the property of the United States Golf Association.)

Before the flight, he practiced using it in a space suit and made a deal that if the mission went well, “then the last thing I was going to do, before climbing up the ladder to come home, was to whack these two golf balls.”

“It was a one-handed 6 iron because it was very clumsy with our suits,” he said in an interview in 1994. “The first one I shanked. The ball came off the handle and it rolled into a crater 40 yards away. The next one I hit pretty flush. Here it would have gone 30 yards, but because there’s no atmosphere there, it went about 200 yards.”

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