Friday, February 5, 2016

Tonight's Sky for February 5: Apollo 14 Lands on the Moon (1971)

It was on this date in 1971 that Apollo 14 landed on the Moon. After the Apollo 13 near-disaster the year before, public confidence in NASA was shaken and the space agency knew it needed a slam-dunk mission to re-instill public confidence in the Apollo program. To lead the mission, NASA selected a seasoned veteran, Alan Shepard, Mercury 7 member and first American in space. Joining Shepard were Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell. The mission lifted off on January 31 and successfully landed on February 5. While a smashing success in the science department, Apollo 14 is most-remembered for something that definitely wasn't in the mission plan: Moon golf.

An avid golfer, Alan Shepard wanted to hit a golf ball on the Moon and, at the same time, he realized that such a show could mean some positive public relations for NASA. Knowing that by-the-book NASA management would probably never go for the plan, Shepard, with the help of a club pro, rigged up a 6-iron head to fit the collapsible shaft of an excavation tool, which Shepard then smuggled aboard in his space suit. Once on the Moon and with cameras rolling, Shepard pulled out the collapsible club, extended it to its full length, and, after a few practice swings, sent a golf ball flying for “miles and miles!” over the lunar surface in what could have been termed one small swing for man, one giant drive for mankind.

As Shepard hoped, his impromptu stunt captured public imagination, put NASA back in the headlines for all the right reasons, and has continued to be one of the most talked about moments in NASA history. 

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