February 6

Golf on the Moon

 

During the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard hit two golf balls on the Moon.  They travelled for miles and miles and miles. 

Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-FxhCZold0

 

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When you were teenagers, you accompanied your friend Paul to a driving range.  Far off to the side, a maintenance truck idled while a worker unloaded some gardening equipment.

“Watch me hit that truck.”  Paul made a few practice swings in the air, then lined up his club behind the golf ball.

You knew he was joking.  Paul’s aim was so terrible, he couldn’t hit the side of a barn.

So, only pretending to aim away from available target lanes, Paul swung his club and hit the ball with a surprisingly powerful slice.  The ball curved in the air and headed directly toward the idle vehicle.

It smashed into the truck’s front windshield.

The worker immediately began marching toward them.  You tried not to laugh.

As the man stormed closer, he seemed to grow larger.  With each step, his body looked more muscular beneath workman’s overalls.

“Jeez, you’re in trouble now,” you’d said under your breath.  “It really looks like you did that on purpose.”

Paul shrugged, took out his checkbook.  “Dad will pay for the damage…”

The damage to your face, too? you wondered then.  But the worker calmed down and was perfectly reasonable, once he realized Paul’s family connections.

 

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Years later, you still got invited to tag along for some of Paul’s crazy jaunts.

This had to be the craziest yet:  a chartered shuttle flight to the Moon on the anniversary of Apollo 14.  Basically, an opportunity for a few spoiled millionaires to recreate an unusual golfing moment — and, in the process, make a once-in-a-lifetime shot they could brag about forever-after in the clubroom.

Four rich guys, including Paul, and one woman.  You’re not part of their social circle, but recognize the others from tabloid TV.   Not quite the best representation of humanity…but at least they could afford the airfare.

The shuttle flight was exciting, but the suited-up travel in the lunar lander was cramped and nauseating.  Gus Plunkett, the retired astronaut who coordinated the pricey excursion, shouted encouragement through your headset speakers.  “You’re doing fine.  We’ll be on the surface before you know it.”  His radio voice created vibrations in your teeth.  You were afraid you’d splatter vomit onto the clear visor of your air-tight helmet.

The disembarkation was surreal.  As you navigated the ladder in your bulky spacesuit, it didn’t feel like you were actually climbing down.  You hoped to feel more settled once you hit the surface of the Moon, but your footing was unsteady.  Spongy.  Floaty.

You decided to focus on the Earth hanging in strange sky overhead — a beautiful blue marble with white streaks.

Everyone else started jumping around:  overgrown kids in the birthday party Moon Bounce house.  You tried to stay planted, but Paul snuck behind and gave you a gentle shove…sending you ten yards across the rugged terrain.  His rich friends laughed.

Plunkett set up the main activity, and Paul went first.  Your friend grabbed the golf club, then announced his shot through everyone’s headphones.  “Watch me hit the Earth,” he said.

And a swing, the ball arcing in the air at an unexpected speed.  You modify your assessment from adolescent years:  Pauls aim is so terrible, he couldnt hit the side of a planet.

The white ball gets lost in the sky.  You follow its expected path, watch where it might have landed.

The result is impossible, obviously some other event happening at the same time.  On the Earth’s distant surface you notice a rising cloud of dust from the edge of a familiar continent.  A spiderweb of cracks spread from the contact point, like the pattern in a truck’s smashed windshield.

If you could see it from this far away, with the naked eye, the event must be catastrophic.  Apocalyptic.

Seven survivors of the human race looked aghast into the Moon’s sky:  you, a retired astronaut, and five spoiled millionaires.