Latest News

Astronaut Alan Shepard and the 50th anniversary of the first golf swing on the moon

0

“nttntttif(typeof(jQuery)==”function”){(function($){$.fn.fitVids=function(){}})(jQuery)};nttttjwplayer(‘jwplayer_WxlcUgir_9JtFt04J_div’).setup(ntttt{“advertising”:{“admessage”:”This video will resume in xx seconds”,”bids”:{“bidders”:[{“id”:”210076″,”name”:”SpotX”},{“id”:”jrkl5-k9ohg”,”type”:”OpenRTB”,”name”:”Telaria”,”pubid”:”jrkl5-a40q0″},{“id”:”65254″,”type”:”OpenRTB”,”name”:”EMX”,”pubid”:”1081″},{“id”:”2349013″,”type”:”OpenRTB”,”name”:”PubMatic”,”pubid”:”158095″},{“id”:”b00sT1D”,”type”:”OpenRTB”,”name”:”MediaGrid”,”pubid”:”g1xAcOtC”}],”settings”:{“buckets”:[{“min”:8,”max”:20,”increment”:0.25},{“min”:20,”max”:50,”increment”:0.5}],”mediationLayerAdServer”:”dfp”,”floorPriceCents”:25}},”client”:”googima”,”cuetext”:”Advertisement”,”schedule”:[{“offset”:”pre”,”type”:”linear”,”tag”:”%%VAST_TAG%%”}],”skipmessage”:”Skip ad in xx seconds”,”vpaid_mode”:”insecure”,”vast_load_timeout”:15000,”load_video_timeout”:15000,”request_timeout”:10000,”max_redirects”:8},”autoPause”:{“viewability”:”true”},”playlist”:”https://content.jwplatform.com/feeds/WxlcUgir.json”,”ph”:2}nttt);nttnt”sdpJWEmbed.start();

Commander Alan Shepard Jr. kept his plan quiet. The mission came first.

Apollo 14, Shepard’s second space flight as commander, was planned for Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, 1971. Two years after humans first landed on the moon, Shepard wouldn’t be the first astronaut in space or the first person to walk on the moon on this trip, but he secretly planned to create a first of his own 238,900 miles from home.

A lover of golf who spent the later years of his life near Pebble Beach, California, Shepard brought two golf balls folded in a sock and a unique 6-iron of his own engineering to space 50 years ago, hoping to become the first person to hit a golf ball on the moon.

USGA senior historian Victoria Nenno recounts the idea came to Shepard as he was determining the best way to demonstrate to non-scientists the differences between the atmospheres on Earth and the moon. One previous idea to demonstrate the differences in atmospheres was dropping a rock and feather in space and noticing how they reacted on release, but Shepard wanted a more relatable, visual aid to demonstrate the differences.

The idea to use golf as the visual hit Shepard when famed comedian Bob Hope visited NASA prior to the mission. During the tour led by Shepard, Hope carried around an old driver and eventually used it for balance when he entered the moonwalker, simulating conditions on the moon.

To make his plan fit into the mission as seamlessly as possible, Shepard decided the best way to bring a golf club on board was to make it useful to the mission and compact. He used a retractable telescopic aluminum and teflon shaft, which usually attaches to an instrument which collects rock and dust samples on the lunar surface, as the shaft of the golf club with the idea of crafting an attachable clubhead he would fasten to the end when he finished collecting the sample for his experiment.

Alan B. Shepard as seen during his visit to Golf House in Far Hills, New Jersey on February 6, 1996 to talk about the Moon Club which he used on the moon during his Apollo 14 mission. (Copyright Robert Walker/USGA)

With the help of Jack Harden, head golf pro at River Oaks Country Club in Houston, Texas, Shepard crafted a modified Wilson 6-iron clubhead. They chose to create a 6-iron because the length of the shaft for a scientific instrument was about the length of a traditional 6-iron. The modified club fit in a small bag, folded along its five breaks, connected by a piece of string. With a pull of the internal string, all five sections of the shaft were reconnected and with the tying of a knot, the shaft became solid. With the addition of the Wilson clubhead, which snaps in the thinnest end of the shaft, NASA’s first golf club was assembled. It weighed about 16.5 ounces.

When he pitched the idea to Robert Gilruth, then director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, he was initially met with some resistance. The mission came first.

“It’s one of those things where you’re undertaking a very dangerous and important mission and to add something that’s potentially seen as lighthearted into the equation could seem unnecessary,” Nenno said. “But he thought this would be a great way to demonstrate … a scientific experiment that would really communicate the differences to the people watching below.”

But after some convincing, citing the impact the demonstration could have to non-scientists about the mysteries of space, Gilruth allowed Shepard to use the club pending the mission was successful and complete. With golf balls hidden in a sock inside his space suit, Shepard didn’t fill in his fellow astronauts – Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell. They didn’t know until after liftoff.

The Moon Club, a specially crafted 6-iron clubhead, weighing 16.5 ounces, that was carried by Alan Shepard onboard the Apollo 14 mission to the moon as seen at the USGA Headquarters in Far Hills, NJ. (USGA/John Mummert)

Apollo 14 launched on Jan. 31. When there were no complications with the mission on Feb. 6, it was Shepard’s time to pay homage to the game he loved while demonstrating the physics of life in space, but a wrinkle arose in his plan due to the bulk of Shepard’s suit.

“Houston, while you’re looking that up, you might recognize what I have in my hand is the handle for the contingency sample return; it just so happens to have a genuine six iron on the bottom of it,” Shepard said on the moon, according to the NASA transcript. “In my left hand, I have a little white pellet that’s familiar to millions of Americans. I’ll drop it down. Unfortunately, the suit is so stiff, I can’t do this with two hands, but I’m going to try a little sand-trap shot here.”

With one hand, Shepard swung and missed the ball. This prompted banter from fellow astronauts.

“You got more dirt than ball that time,” Mitchell jabbed.

He finally made sight contact with his second swing, but not enough to send the ball further than two or three feet, according to the NASA transcript.

“That looked like a slice to me, Al,” former Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 13 Fred Haise inserted from Mission Control.

“Here we go. Straight as a die,” Shepard replied. “One more.”

After a long pause, Shepard swung his makeshift 6-iron and made contact. The first golf shot on the moon came to life, rolling into a crater about 40 yards away.

He had the hang of it now.

Shepard dropped a second ball and swung again. Keeping his head down as much as he could, he made contact a second time.

The Moon Club, a specially crafted 6-iron clubhead carried by Alan Shepard onboard the Apollo 14 mission to the moon as seen on August 30, 2007 at the USGA Headquarters in Far Hills, NJ. (USGA/John Mummert)

“Miles and miles and miles,” Shepard said as he watched it sail.

“Very good, Al,” Haise said.

It wasn’t really miles. It was more like 200 yards, Shepard estimated later based on calculations and landmarks on the moon’s surface from previous experiments.

The moment wasn’t scientifically groundbreaking. The atmosphere on the moon’s surface had been tested and witnessed in previous missions. It wasn’t a complicated experiment or procedure like many of NASA’s missions. But it didn’t need to be.

It was lighthearted. It was human. And it made space, astronauts and the unknown universe warm and familiar if only for a brief moment.

“Obviously it’s gone down as sort of one of these really human moments in scientific exploration and its generated a lot of interest with people not only in the sporting community but because it represents the American cultural milestone,” Nenno said. “You can see sports are so important to American culture, so important in fact that they’re used to demonstrate science in this moment of major scientific exploration. …

“The moon club has such a broad interest among people because it take us back to this time of great national pride and hope for the future and golf and sports’ role in our American identity.”

National pride and hope. Something 50 years later, every American and human could use a little more of.

While Shepard died in 1998 at the age of 74, his legacy lives on in the USGA Golf Museum and Library in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, where the moon club and the sock that contained the two golf balls brought to the moon are two of the museum’s most popular items alongside Bobby Jones’ famous Calamity Jane putter.

Admiral Alan B. Shepard and The Moon Club. (USGA)

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/02/nasa-alan-shepard-50th-anniversary-first-golf-moon/

How and why Saudi Arabia is trying to spark a golf craze

Previous article

Report: TaylorMade Golf for sale, parent KPS could be asking $2 billion

Next article

You may also like

Comments

Comments are closed.

More in Latest News