The most widely viewed golf shot in history has not occurred at a major tournament. It wasn’t even at a PGA event. In fact, it didn’t happen on Earth. And as it turns out, the legend has decorated its distance.
It was a one-handed slide with an iron Wilson Stuff 6 bat head that was adapted to an aluminum moon rock sample. And golfer Alan Shepard was the first American in space and the fifth man on the moon.
Shepherd hit two golf balls on live television exactly half a century ago yesterday at the end of the Apollo 14 march on the surface of the moon. Due to the vertical angle of the portable television camera as the ball flew, the distance traveled by the shots was left to the suspension of the original “Mercury Seven” astronaut. First, he’s clearly unconscious.
But the second looked as though it had been broken up and Shepherd suggested he might have traveled “miles and miles!”
Well, not exactly. But who is tracking?
Really nobody, until 46-year-old British photographer Andy Saunders used his skills to enhance video clarity and photography long isolated from Apollo 14 and other lunar missions. The results are nothing short of amazing.
Saunders’ painstaking work used new digital and imaging techniques to improve brightness, sharpness and contrast in footage of the 5-decade-old Apollo Moon (1968-1972) program so that we can now see all kinds of previously hidden details more clearly – from the desolate gray surface to the blurred faces. To the astronauts behind their helmet masks to the intricate features of the lunar landers and equipment, yes, to the exact location of the two golf shepherds.
Saunders’ photos will be available later this year in a book titled Apollo Remastered, To be published by Penguin Random House. Some of them have been published and can be seen on the publisher’s advanced website, ApolloRemastered.com.
As the son of an industrial engineer at the North American Command / Sub-Service Unit Apollo Rockwell, I grew up in the marvel of the US space program. So, I longed to spend half an hour on Friday with Saunders on the phone from his home in Colchith, Cheshire, England.
As Saunders explains, the original and clearer negative films were dumped in NASA’s Cold Storage until very recently:
“Somewhere in the last five years, they finally took the original flight movie out of the refrigerator and scanned it with incredible accuracy at file sizes of roughly 1.3 GB. And all the fine detail that was in that camera was in this digital file.”
For someone like Saunders – a space nut since childhood who developed a great skill in image enhancement – this was a gift from heaven.
“But of course, in an analog world, with photochemical processing, it is not designed for digital work; it is designed so that light shines through it on paper or in projection. So, you need to improve it digitally to get the most out of it. And that’s what I’ve been using.”
Looking at developments in digital optimization technology over the past decade, this has provided a unique opportunity to articulate some of the most important images in human history in a major way.
So, how far did those six shots go in the gravity of a sixth? This has been a subject of hyperbolic speculation, and the cheerful Shepherd was little encouraged by his death in 1998.
We’ll get to that. But first, some basic information about how Shepherd was able to play golf on the sand trap satellite in the first place. The idea was made by an impromptu crack from Bob Hope while the comedian was visiting the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1970. The idea stuck with Shepherd when he was due to participate in Apollo 14 later that year.
Shepard tells the full story of shooting at the moon at 1:02:30 from an 88-minute interview with former NBC spaceflight reporter Narrated Neal of Philadelphia, which took place in 1998, five months before the astronaut died of leukemia. :
“I was an avid golfer. And before the trip, I was intrigued that the ball, at the same speed as the club head, would travel six times the distance and that the flight time would be at least six times. It wouldn’t bend, because there is no atmosphere to cut or hook.
“So, I thought: What a neat place to hit the golf ball.”
When Shepherd approached NASA’s manned space flight director Bob Gilroth with his idea, the response was immediate and sure: Forget it. But Shepard insisted on a clarification: The only additional charge was the club head, made by a professional he knew in Houston, plus a few golf balls:
Shepard added with a bold smile: “I paid myself.” “There are no taxpayer expenses.”
All of that will be left on the moon. If anything ever went wrong during either of two 4-and-a-half hour EVA (EVA) activities on the moon, Shepherd agreed he wouldn’t. If everything went as planned, he would collide with several balls at the end of the second round of EVA on February 6, 1971, climb the ladder with partner and lunar module pilot Ed Mitchell and close the hatch.
In other words, it was kind of a low microphone in width. And by that point in the Apollo program – with the incredibly old moon missions turning into an old hat more than two years after the first lunar orbit of Apollo 8, and 18 months after the first manned landing of Apollo 11 – the show was significant. Glroth caved.
As it turns out, everything went quietly with Shepard and Mitchell’s EVA, so a modified racket head came out and two balls that the captain had stored in a pocket in his suit. He rolled it up on the Moon Rock Shovel, threw a ball in the dust and drank it with some great flair.
Shepherd knew from his experience with his flexibility in the bulky suit while training that there was no way he could manage so much of the back swing or keep his gloved hands on the handle of the scoop. His vision was also limited by his inability to bend his neck much inside the EVA helmet. Therefore, he used only his right hand and tried to kind of tap the ball like a gardener hitting a lawn with a sickle.
His first hit on the first ball barely made it move. The second attempt was unsuccessful and apparently didn’t go far, prompting a mockery from Mitchell. But after the third and final attempt, on a second ball, Shepherd shouted as if Lee Trevino was a fan of exemplary driving: “Miles, miles, miles!” This is the shot viewers have envisioned that was probably flying constantly, unaffected by the atmosphere.
Saunders has been working on all of the moon shots of Apollo for years. Some of the results are amazing. In one, you can now clearly see Neil Armstrong’s face behind his eyebrow, which is a rare shot anyway because he had the still camera for most of the EVA and nearly all of the lunar footage you see in Apollo 11 is from the lunar module pilot and fellow Buzz. Aldrin.
So, improving Apollo 14 is only part of a huge project. But Shepard Golf ball’s research was an obvious attraction:
“Before, you could probably find an old quality golf ball. It looked more like a rock even on new high-resolution scans. But [now] You can zoom in yet, because it was high resolution, and treated it seriously enough to know – that was it definitely Golf ball. “
Saunders was able to find and triangulate the location of both spheres using still front and side images from the Portable Lunar Camera and overhead images from the video camera above the ascent stage of the LM as it set off to return to the command module.
Conclusion: Shepard’s first shot went 24 yards. The landing point of Shepard’s second car, never seen before, was actually “miles and miles,” as most of those who knew Shepherd’s mischievous nature had largely suspected – but a mere 40 yards.
Another long golf tale. Saunders gives him all the credit regardless:
“With one hand, a quarter of a swing, you can’t see properly, with this giant backpack, actually hitting from the largest sand trap in the solar system? Well done.”
In theory, to what extent could A golf ball driven by a bomber like Bryson Deschamps on the surface of the Moon, given a hypothetical future in which humans can be protected from extreme lunar temperatures in suitable coats that we cannot imagine today, perhaps in some kind of Topgolf’s protected lunar franchise? Saunders did the math and said Shepherd’s exaggeration wouldn’t be the same: about 3.41 miles.
Alan Shepard was a man of countless accomplishments including uncommon courage as a test-jet fighter pilot, not to mention his 1961 redstone missile, whose previous versions exploded on the platform, becoming the first American to ride fire into a vacuum.
Quite simply, however, he is perhaps still known 23 years after his death for being the only moon golfer.
He probably didn’t mind, as he later confirmed that Iron Six from Bad Lie:
“It was designed to be a fun thing. Fortunately, it is It was Fun thing. “
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