February 6, 2010

First golfing on the moon! – 1971

On this day in 1971, American astronaut Alan Shepard hit two golf balls on the moon with a 6-iron.

The balls are still up there!

Shepard joked that the balls traveled “miles and miles and miles.” Actually, the first golf ball is estimated to have traveled about 200 meters, which is about 656 feet. The second ball traveled about 400 meters, or 1,312 feet.

Shepard actually had some difficulty hitting the golf balls. As you can imagine, and as he mentioned, his space suit was pretty stiff. He swung the golf club four times in order to hit two balls. Still, the balls traveled a lot farther than they would have on Earth. Why do you suppose that is?

On Earth an amateur golfer hitting a golf ball with a 6 iron, in good conditions, would probably hit a golf ball between 390 and 480 feet. Let's compare that to Alan Shepard's better shot:
MOON --------------- EARTH
1,312 feet ---------- 480 feet
Wow! The balls went almost three times farther on the moon. Have you figured out why that might be?

Two Answers

There are two main factors for the long golf shots on the moon.

First, there is no air on the moon (the main reason for those bulky, stiff space suits!), so there is no air resistance to slow down the golf ball.

Second, the moon is a lot smaller than the Earth, so it has a lot less gravity. It only has one-sixth of Earth's gravity. That means that, on the moon, everything weighs only one-sixth of what it weighs on Earth—including Alan Shepard, the 6-ir
on, and the golf ball. Another way of saying that is that the moon only pulls the golf ball downward with one-sixth of the power that the Earth pulls golf balls down. So that means that a golf ball falls to the surface more slowly. And since it stays up longer, it travels farther.

Edit--Apparently the photo of Alan Shepard hitting the golf ball (displayed above), while based on a video clip, has been photoshopped. Thanks for the heads up to Phil Plait, the "Bad Astronomer."

Sports on the Moon

Someday people will probably live on
the moon. When that happens, they will have a chance to have some very different sports than we enjoy here on Earth. (Even if they are the same sports!)

Some people discuss the deep layer of dust (or regolith) on the moon, and how that will affect sports. They discuss the lack of air and air resistance, the need for pressurized space suits, and moon's inability to keep liquid water on its unprotected surface (which would affect water sports).

But I want to put all that aside and assume that the people enjoying sports on the moon are doing so inside their lunar colony, inside a pressurized dome. There they would have air to breathe and could wear normal clothing. Also, the temperature would be controlled so that the water in a pool wouldn't boil away or freeze.

Even under the dome, however, the moon's gravity would make sports very different. People could jump much higher and much farther, and everything that they hit or throw would go higher and farther, too. Running on the moon would have a slower, loping look. With low gravity, we might need larger courts and playing fields, and higher baskets. But we could invent all-new
sports, too!

Kidz World discusses lunar baseball, basketball, and tennis.

Lunar Olympics

With the Winter Olympics coming up soon, think about hosting an Olympic games on the moon. It's pretty cold there during the night (understatement!), and scientists recently discovered that there is quite a bit of water ice. Could some amazing ski runs and ski jumps be created on the moon? What kinds of tricks would snowboarders like the "Flying Tomato" be able to make? What would figure skating look like in one-sixth Earth gravity? How high could a skater jump, and how many turns could he or she make before landing?

Your Weight on Other Worlds

San Francisco's Exploratorium has a cool website where you can easily find
out your weight on the Moon, the other planets, the Sun, a neutron star, and so forth.


What would it be like to live on the moon?

What if you were exploring the moon and you found one of Alan Shepard's golf balls? Would you pick it up or organize a memorial for that spot, with a special historic marker, or...?

There's a lot of other stuff we humans have left strewn around the moon. Lunar rovers, flags, and landing modules are just some of the stuff. Can you imagine being in
charge of creating a museum about the Apollo program ON THE MOON? Maybe the site for the museum should be the spot where the first landing, Apollo 11, occurred, and the actual flag erected there could be on display where it was first planted. Items from other Apollo missions could be brought to the museum for display. Perhaps some of the footprints left by the astronauts won't be terribly degraded from tiny meteorite hits, and could be protected for future generations to see in some sort of exhibit.

If we did move stuff to one central museum, should each landing spot be marked by plaques? Monuments?

Someday people will make decisions about all of these sorts of things. Maybe one of those people will be you!

By the way, did you know...?

Some people think that the Apollo moon landings were a hoax! That is, these conspiracy theorists think that, despite all logic and evidence, humans never went to the moon, walked on the moon, or golfed on the moon.

These people are way off, and astronomer Phil Plait (among others) straight-up demolished their conspiracy theory ideas. If you are interested in how science and rationality can refute stuff that just pretends to be science, check out Bad Astronomy's moon hoax pages.


Write a story about life in a lunar colony.

Here is an article to prime your imagination. There are a few pictures here and here to help your imagination along.


The book This Place Has No Atmosphere, by Paula Danziger, is about an ordinary teenage girl who lives in a moon colony.

The internet game Space Colony is free to play. You have to hone your leadership skills while facing the problems of living in space.

Warning: First, this isn't a lunar colony, but rather one in outer space. More important, I haven't tried out this game. Any feedback from someone who has would be great!

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