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50 years after Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard’s famous ‘moon shot’ we calculate how far a McIlroy drive would go in space

Alan Shephard

Golf shot goes into Ror-bit

Talk about the ultimate bunker shot! This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of arguably the most spectacular golf shot of all time.

On February 6, 1971, American astronaut, Alan Shephard became the first, and only, person to ever play golf on the surface of the moon when he produced a six-iron from his spacesuit.

Legend has it that Commander Shephard smuggled the foldable golf club and balls onto the space craft in his personal items. Just before the Apollo 14 mission left the lunar surface, the keen golfer swung into action, hitting two golf balls.

He declared the second shot travelled for ‘miles and miles and miles’ but could that really have been possible, and, if so, just how far then could Holywood’s Rory McIlroy strike a ball on the moon?

Dr Marc Sarzi, Head of Research at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) has been doing the calculations and believes Shephard may have ‘over-estimated’ the distance his ball travelled.

He said: “On the moon projectiles travel further because the pull of gravity is much weaker than on earth and because there is no atmosphere on the moon and therefore no drag.

“Without air drag the maximum distance at which you can hit a golf ball depends, not only on the gravity acceleration but also on how fast you hit it and on the pitch angle at which the ball is struck. The ball will travel the furthest when this angle is 45 degrees.

“Concerning Alan Shepard’s ‘moon shot’, it is claimed the ball travelled for some 70 seconds and landed 2.5 miles away. Based on my own estimates on how far a professional player could hit a golf ball on the moon, I think this distance may be somewhat exaggerated.

“Shepard certainly did hit the ball, but hardly as fast as he could have if unencumbered by his spacesuit and certainly not as fast as a professional player such as our own Rory McIlroy.”

McIlroy regularly drives golf balls over 300 yards (274 meters) at speeds of over 180mph and at a pitch angle of 15 degrees. But just how far would his shots travel if one of the Majors took place on the moon?

Dr Sarzi said: “Without air friction McIlroy’s typical drive would go further out to some 330 meters. On the moon, with a gravity acceleration six times smaller, the ball would travel six times further and land some 2km away, which is roughly 1.25 miles.

“This is how far a professional golf player with modern equipment could hit a drive on the moon. Alan Shepard, like some golf players, probably exaggerated a bit when he said the ball flew for miles and miles and miles.

“We know Rory McIlroy is a special talent, but it really would be out-of-this- world to see him hit a golf ball on the moon – maybe one day.”

Meanwhile, to celebrate Commander Shephard’s out-of-this-world golf shot, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium has launched an online competition to win some fantastic prizes.

All you have to do is upload videos of you doing a tick-shot to Facebook and tag @armaghplanet using the hashtag #AOPApolloChallenge so everyone can see your attempt. Don’t forget to nominate your friends and family to do the same! The best shot will win a family pass when Armagh Observatory and Planetarium reopens.

To keep up-to-date with everything that is going on at AOP and to view all terms and conditions for the #AOPApolloChallenge visit www.armagh.space


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