Mission control: You need to bend your knees a little more. Keep your head down.
Alan Shepard: I’m… wearing a space suit.
Mission control: Just trying to help.
Apollo 14, the third crew ever to land on the Moon, pulled one of the most iconic stunts of all time.
Along with Stuart Roosa (left) and Edgar Mitchel (right), commander Alan Shepard (center) became the first man to golf on another planet.
His famous quote, after hitting the ball squarely, was:
Miles and miles and miles.
But take a look at the video itself. It sure doesn’t seem like that ball would’ve gone miles and miles and miles at all.
But the Moon’s a little different. With no atmosphere (and no air resistance), and only one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity, we can figure out — with a little help from physics — how far it would be possible to hit a golf ball on the Moon! We need to know two things to figure it out: how fast the ball can move and what angle to hit the ball at.
So what’s the fastest initial speed a golf ball can have? Well, you can measure the speed of a golf club without too much problem.
Even a typical amateur golfer can swing a club at 90 miles per hour (40 m/s). Does that mean the ball goes off at that speed? Hardly. You can make the ball go twice that speed! How? Just make sure you’ve got a club head that’s much more massive than the ball, and that you’ve got an elastic collision, and you’re in business!
This is very different from Earth, where you hit the ball at a relatively low angle and rely on aerodynamics to minimize wind resistance and maximize the distance. On the Moon, you’ve simply got to launch it at 45 degrees, and that’s the farthest it can go on the fly!
And you want it to go on the fly, because the surface of the Moon is like one giant sand trap. So how far is that?
Nearly two and a half miles, or 3948 meters! Not only that, but it would take more than a minute (69.8 seconds) for the ball to come back down! In fact, it’s totally conceivable that Alan Shepard’s one-armed, 6-iron shot on the Moon holds the record for the farthest golf shot in the history of humanity!
So surprisingly, the answer is yes, miles and miles and miles is totally realistic for a golf shot on the Moon!
Now, if only there were some good way to find that ball in the great sand trap that is the Moon’s surface…