Geek Trivia: A good (space)walk spoiled

Besides Alan Shepard's historic golf shot, what other athletic event completed the so-called <em>Lunar Olympics</em> initiated by the crew of Apollo 14?

As research continues toward the goal of building a better spacesuit, one has to wonder if one of the unstated drives of these efforts is to ensure that outer-space golfers can grip a club with two hands. Because 37 years ago -- Feb. 6, 1971 -- when astronaut Alan Shepard hit history's first extraterrestrial golf shot during Apollo 14, the bulkiness of his moonsuit forced him to duff it one-handed.

The same is true for the second game of space golf, which occurred during a spacewalk from the International Space Station on Nov. 23, 2006. Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin hit a non-regulation 3-gram golf ball from the "porch" of the ISS as part of a paid publicity stunt on behalf of Canadian golf equipment maker Element 21.

Unfortunately, as Tyurin had to swing his gold-plated custom six iron one-handed, he shanked the tee shot right into the Russian-made Zvezda module of the ISS, banking the golf ball into precisely the opposite orbit as mission controllers had planned. Rather than granting Tyurin a mulligan, his superiors ordered him off the course and set him and his fellow crewmates back to their primary mission of station repairs.

Still, at least they sanctioned Tyurin's game in the first place. Alan Shepard set out to make golf history more or less on his own. Shepard snuck his modified six iron and regulation golf balls onto Apollo 14 inside his Personal Preference Kit, which astronauts were ostensibly supposed to use for family photographs and mementos -- not club heads.

Shepard had modified the six iron to attach to the handle of the "contingency sample return," which is NASA-speak for a spare shovel used to collect moon rocks. His first one-handed attempt was, by his own description, a "sand trap shot... got more dirt than ball."

His second shot went for "miles and miles," which is Shepard-speak for about 300 yards, give or take a football field. If you check out most video highlights of the event, you'd think that golf was the only ad-hoc sport played during Apollo 14.

But that's not the case. The crew of Apollo 14 staged what some have called the first Lunar Olympics, with two sports -- golf plus a second event-- played on the surface of the moon.


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