Miles and Miles and Miles

The golfer sized up the situation. He decided to “try a sand trap shot” so he pulled out his six iron. He eyed the horizon illuminated by unusually stark sunlight. He took a swing. He missed.

“You got more dirt than ball that time,” said his companion.

The golfer agreed. “Got more dirt than ball. Here we go again,” he said.

The golfer swung again. He hit the ball, but it only went about two feet. This must have been embarrassing: a lot of people were watching.

“Here we go. Straight as a die; one more.” He swung again, but this time he made direct contact with the ball. Content, he drops another ball and hits it.

“Miles and miles and miles,” said the golfer. The golfer was clearly happy.

And he was on the moon.

Second Time Around

Alan Shepard, the golfer, was no stranger to space flight. As the sole astronaut on board Mercury Project’s Freedom 7, he was the second person and first American in space. Now he was commander of the Apollo 14 mission, the oldest astronaut (47) in the program and the only astronaut from the Mercury program to walk on the moon. His companion, Edgar Mitchell, was the Lunar Module Pilot.

Although hitting the golf ball on the moon is well remembered, another sporting tradition was immortalized on the moon that day: javelin throwing. This time it was Edgar Mitchell’s time to shine by thrusting an old discarded lunar scoop handle:

135:21:20 Shepard: Now, let’s see what we got left. (Pause as Ed gets set) There’s the greatest javelin throw of the century!

135:21:31 Mitchell: We’ll see if it is.

135:21:33 Shepard: Old Lefty, himself. (Ed makes his throw) Outstanding! Right in the middle of the crater.

135:21:39 Mitchell: Stayed up.

135:21:40 Shepard: Stabilized spin!

135:21:41 Mitchell: Wasn’t bad at all.

135:21:42 Shepard: Beautiful. Beautiful!

How Far Can a Golf Ball Go On The Moon?

Theoretical astrophysicist and ScienceBlogs writer Ethan Siegel figured out how far one could hit a golf ball on the Moon. To take advantage of the Moon’s reduced gravity and lack of atmosphere, a golfer should hit the golf ball at a 45 degree angle, something a terrestrial golfer would never do. The golfer would also swing the golf club at about 90 mph. If the proper club was used, the golf ball should achieve a velocity of 180 mph. With such conditions met, the ball would go 2.5 miles and be in the air 69 seconds!

And Alan Shepard’s golf ball? Where on the moon did it end up?

Alan Shepard hit two golf balls. The first ball, along with the javelin, ended up in a crater within view of the Lunar Module. The second shot, the one that sailed for “miles and miles,” went, by Shepard’s estimation, about 200 to 400 yards. It wasn’t quite the terrestrial record of 515 yards (Mike Austin, 9/25/74), but it certainly was one of history’s great golf shots.

Robert Walters has a soft spot for the moon since his cartoon characters live there. His cartoons can be found at lunarantics.com.

 Miles and Miles and Miles