On February 6, 1971, astronaut and golfer Alan Shepard turned the Apollo 14 landing site into a driving range.

Apollo 14 commander Shepard was the first American astronaut in space, but today he’s almost as well known as the first — and so far, only — person to hit a golf ball on the Moon. Just before leaving the lunar surface in 1971, he attached a 6-iron golf club head to the foldable shaft of a lunar soil sampler and whacked two golf balls out into the gray lunar distance. Like a lot of spaceflight equipment, the 6-iron (a club typically used to hit the ball longer distances, in the 130-210 yard range) had been specially modified to fit onto the soil sampler; Shepard paid for the modified 6-iron himself, although there’s no record of how much it cost him.

Like all golfers, Shepard couldn’t resist a bit of boasting. “Miles and miles and miles,” he declared as he watched the second shot sail away on its long arc across the lunar surface. On the Moon, with no air resistance and only about a sixth of Earth’s gravity, it’s technically possible to hit a golf ball for miles. Forbes contributor Ethan Siegel calculated that an expert lunar golfer who hit the ball at precisely the right speed and angle could make a 2.5 mile (3,948 meter) shot, keeping the ball in flight for a little over a minute. But Shepard, swinging one-handed in a stiff, bulky 1970s spacesuit, didn’t have a shot at that kind of precision.

In fact, he took two swings at the first ball, because the first swing connected with “more dirt than ball” on the first try, as he says in NASA’s video; that first ball came to rest in nearby Javelin crater — named for astronaut Ed Mitchell’s own parting shot, a javelin-toss of the mission’s solar collector wind staff. Shepard later said that the second ball flew about 200 yards before landing near some scientific instruments the astronauts were leaving behind. That would have been an impressive shot on Earth, where the current record is 515 yards (set by Mike Austin in 1974, three years after Apollo 14), professionals still strive for 300-yard shots.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here