February 6th, 1971 was a relatively quiet day for American sports.
Larry Costello’s Milwaukee Bucks swept the San Francisco Warriors in the NBA, the Boston Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabers to continue their eight-game NHL unbeaten streak, and nltec He shot a 68 to tie the lead at the Hawaii Open.
Nothing out of this world you might say, incorrectly. Because about 230,000 miles away, Alan Shepard was playing golf on the moon.
Returned to television sets on Earth in grainy images, Shepard’s exploits on Apollo 14—the eighth manned Apollo mission and only the third to land on the moon—left viewers awestruck, including those at Mission Control in Houston.
An avid golfer, Sheppard sought out Jack Harden, a pro at River Oaks Country Club in Texas, to build him a modified club. The resulting creation, a Wilson Staff Dyna-Power 6 ironhead, is tucked away in Shepard’s space suit for launch, with a few balls hidden in a sock.
None of this was in NASA’s inventory. The Apollo program cost nearly $25 billion — about $246 billion today according to a 2019 analysis By The Planetary Society – Bringing new meaning to the phrase “time is money”. With minutes worth millions, moonwalk schedules are meticulously designed to ensure maximum efficiency.
It is rumored that only Mission Director Bob Gilruth knew of the astronaut’s plan, and Shepard only got a reluctant Gilruth’s permission after promising that any Golf would be salvaged for the end of extravehicular activities (EVA), and only if there was time.
After nine hours of walking on the surface and numerous science experiments, Shepard was returning to the lunar module when he saw his chance. Attaching a modified clubhead to a tool designed to collect lunar rock samples, the commander prepared to take on one of the largest bunkers in the universe — with one hand.
“Houston…you may realize what I have in my hand is the handle for emergency sample return. You happen to have an original six-iron on the bottom of it,” said Shepard, speaking directly into the camera.
“In my left hand I have a little white pellet familiar to millions of Americans… Unfortunately the suit is so stiff, I can’t do it with two hands, but I’ll try a little sand trap shot here.”
After two failed attempts, Shepard’s first shot hit a nearby crater, much to the delight of Houston-based Capsule Communications Officer Fred Hayes.
“It looked like a chip to me,” Hayes said, “but the first golfer on the moon had only one ball left to play.”
Plumes of lunar dust exploded, the second shot hit with a sweeter punch, and Shepard was impressed by what he saw.
“Miles and miles and miles,” said the elated astronaut as the ball sailed out of his field of view, swallowed up by the endless blackness of space. Needless to say, the shot-tracking technology was not available, and so Shepard went back to the ground not knowing where his second shot was.
Three years later, Andy Saunders was born in the northwest of England. After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in Photography, he worked in property renovations.
What does any of that have to do with an astronaut playing golf on the moon? Nearly 50 years later, Saunders was the man to show that an astronaut’s second shot traveled just 40 yards—about the length of a 10-pin bowling alley.
Saunders didn’t set out to rain on Shepard’s motorcade. Instead, it began with a nagging desire to amend a lifelong frustration, articulated neatly in a file 2012 piece in Atlantic Ocean Titled “There Are No Good Pictures of Neil Armstrong on the Moon.”
Because while Armstrong may have been the astronaut tasked with taking man one small step, he was also the astronaut on the camera mission. As a result, all of the iconic photos of the astronauts taken on the surface during Apollo 11 are effectively Buzz Aldrin’s.
“If you think in today’s world how completely ridiculous that concept is; first people in another world, but they only took one camera,” Saunders told CNN.
“They didn’t take a selfie like we’re going to do now.”
Using a state-of-the-art digital enhancement technique known as stacking, where frames are separated and then stacked and combined to bring out more detail, Saunders produced the clearest-ever image of Armstrong on the lunar surface.
When he released the photo on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in July 2019, it became worldwide news. Soon after, NASA opened up access to a sprawling library of Apollo flight film—long locked in a frozen vault at Johnson Space Center in Houston—and Saunders applied his techniques en masse.
Faced with 35,000 still images and more than 10 hours of movie footage, over the next two years he put his career on hold to spend more than 10,000 hours restoring each frame. The result was “Apollo Remastered,” A book of 400 stunning photographs, a favorite of Saunders, that show the space program with unprecedented clarity.
The book’s front cover, a shot of Apollo9 astronaut Jim McDevitt, is the perfect encapsulation of the water-to-wine charm of Saunder’s restoration techniques. Previously an image of near-total blackness, save for the faint outline of McDevitt’s helmet, it’s hard to believe the luminous cinematic image could be drawn from the original.
Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke called the photos an “accurate representation” of his memories on the Moon, “the next best thing to being there.” For Saunders, there is no better assessment.
“I want people to feel this is as close as they can get to walking on the moon themselves,” he said.
“You think about the subject of any photographer — you have fellow human beings doing these incredibly unusual things in an extraordinary setting against a backdrop that is literally otherworldly.
“Every several hundred photos that I show, there is something interesting, something of interest, or something that looks amazing.”
When he arrived on Apollo 14, Saunders tasked himself with finding Shepard’s elusive second ball. His eclecticism of fuzzy original footage — where almost everything on the surface looked like little rocks — made for an impossible interstellar game of Where’s Waldo, but with Saunders’ array of tricks, he quickly found his prize.
Determining the distance traveled by the ball was much more difficult, since there was no scale reference. Saunders’ workaround was to superimpose the images on footage taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite orbiting the Moon in 2009.
With no wind or erosion at play, nothing moved; Perfectly preserved for 38 years, the sight was Saunders’ answer: 40 yards. About 318 yards shy of the 2022 PGA Tour average driving distance, even casual golfers would write such an opening shot as a disaster.
But ordinary golfers don’t play in a tight spacesuit and thick gloves, they don’t swing a light club in one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, they can barely see their feet, and – Except for some Tik-Tok stars – Do not swing with one hand.
“He didn’t get favorite lies, he just dropped the ball – full of rocks and footprints and like an uncovered dugout – so I think it was impressive even to make contact,” said Saunders.
Saunders believes Shepard’s “miles and miles” remark was turned into a tongue-in-cheek, almost instinctive reaction to his hyper-competitive “fighting” nature. The fact that Shepard, who died at the age of 74 in 1998, later lowered his estimate to a still generous 200 yards seems to support that assessment.
However, ironically, there was some instinctive truth behind the astronaut’s bold claim. By Saunder’s calculations, if the big hitter is famous Brison Dechambeau If he was able to duplicate his club’s ground speed at a 45-degree angle to the moon, he would bowl his drive 3.41 miles.
“Actually, funny enough, this is miles and miles and miles like Shepard said,” added Saunders.
“It’s possible, given the suit is flexible enough… because there’s no air resistance, because there’s one-sixth of gravity, you can hit it almost the entire length of the golf course.”
with launch Artemis I Earlier this month, NASA approached the long-awaited return to the lunar surface, untouched by humans since Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan’s last steps in December 1972.
In theory, it could make Saunders a millionaire. An ESPN article in 2021 set the auction value of each sphere at a minimum of $10 million, and Saunders joked that he would go after NASA for 10% of the discoverers’ fee if they were recovered.
Although Saunders is not planning early retirement just yet. He is content with the conviction that the site of Shepard’s exploits will never be disturbed, a belief endorsed by NASA’s chief historian Brian Odom.
“Maybe one day we’ll have colonies on the moon and that’s like Stonehenge — we don’t want to mess with the Apollo landing sites,” Odom said.
“We want to make sure we treat these landing sites as national landmarks, make sure they’re preserved, make sure they’re not contaminated, make sure they’re there forever.
“I think they (the balls) are where they need to stay and we need to make sure we keep them as they have been.”
The couple’s hopes touch on something that contributed to the enduring legacy of Shepard’s shots: not distance or monetary value, but human resonance.
Strange as it may sound, by the time of Apollo 14, Odom explained, the American public had developed an insensitive “been-there, done-that” attitude toward the space program, and the prospect of a science research mission hadn’t changed much. the mood.
That all changed with the news of golf over the moon, especially because of the guy who was using the club. As the first American astronaut in space in 1961, World War II Navy veteran Shepherd becomes a national celebrity, a cure for Yuri Gagarin’s infamy of the Soviet Union as he leads the United States into space.
“People love Shepherd, they know Shepherd,” Odom explained.
“It seems like maybe a lot of people want to see themselves as Alan Shepard sometimes.
“People who knew Shepard, who I talked to—he had that zest for life. He had this appreciation for doing your job but also having fun… Those two things come together in that moonlit moment when he’s hitting the golf balls around.”
Longest ride in history or not, the Shepherd’s Moon Golf Show has captured the imagination for half a century, and not just those interested in golf.
“We always talk about getting to the moon, landing on the moon, coming back to Earth — that’s how we think about the moon,” Odom said.
“But when it comes to a human activity, something that is done just to enjoy life, it is something that people can appreciate.”
Saunders agrees. He said, “A lot of people know that somebody played golf on the Moon, but not a lot of those know that he was on Apollo 14, that there was even Apollo 14.
“Those human moments resonate forever.”
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