One of the iconic events that happened during the NASA Apollo era occurred 50 years ago this week. On the Apollo 14 moon mission, astronaut Alan Shepard pulled out two golf balls and a golf club on the moon’s surface. The first ball he hit wound up in a crater, and Shepard said that the second shot was smashed for “miles and miles and miles.” While many golfers are prone to bragging, scientists say that Shepard could have hit a ball that far when he smashed it with his club on February 6, 1971.
Interestingly, Shepard used a makeshift six-iron that he had fashioned out of a collapsible tool designed to scoop lunar rock samples and then snuck aboard the spacecraft stashed inside a sock. The only footage that exists of Sheppard hitting the golf balls was a side-on from one television camera.
An imaging specialist named Andy Saunders recently digitally enhanced high-resolution scans of the original video footage and used a stacking technique on a smaller 16mm movie shot by the crew. Saunders was able to find the second golf ball, which hadn’t been seen in 50 years, and determine how far it went. Due to the moon’s lack of gravity, modern golfer Bryson DeChambeau could theoretically hit a ball 3.41 miles.
While no one ever thought Shepard was being serious about smashing the golf ball for miles, Saunders has now been able to determine the distance both of the balls traveled. According to Saunders, who worked with the United States Golf Association to mark the anniversary, ball one traveled 24 yards, and ball two traveled 40 yards.
That certainly a far cry from “miles and miles and miles,” but Saunders points out that the moon is essentially one giant unranked and rock-strewn bunker. Sheppard was also wearing a spacesuit that severely restricted his movement requiring him to swing the club with one hand. Even hitting the ball and getting it airborne was an impressive feat under the circumstances.