The Conversation: Golfing on the Moon

Astronaut Ed Mitchell reflects on famous golf swing, his own javelin throw

February 3, 2011, 3:00 PM

Feb. 3, 2011— -- This Super Bowl Sunday marks a big anniversary for an event in sports that was truly out of this world. It happened on the moon.

Forty years ago this Sunday, Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell took an entirely different kind of "giant leap for mankind," playing sports on the lunar surface.

Shepard famously hit golf balls with a modified six-iron, and Mitchell threw a javelin. All these years later, the images of their fun on the moon are almost as closely associated with the Apollo moon program as the lunar rover.

"That was the first lunar Olympics," said Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon. He is now 80 and living in Florida.

Mitchell and Shepard, who died in 1998, were on the moon to conduct science experiments. The conducted two moonwalks, or EVA's, over two days. But just before they left the surface, they snuck in a few minutes for fun.

"We had very little time, just a few seconds to pull that off," Mitchell said, "less than a minute or so.

"[Shepard] hit his golf ball, after three whacks at it... I threw a javelin, using a staff from the solar wind experment," he said.

As Shepard struck the ball, he joked on the radio that his shot went "miles and miles," but Mitchell is still setting the record straight. While Shepard's golf swing is most-often remembered in the history books, Mitchell's javelin throw actually went further.

"By about 4 inches," Mitchell said with a laugh. "His golf hit didn't go very far either, simply because he was swinging one-handed in a pressure suit."

The golf ball and javelin are still on the lunar surface, but Shepard's special six iron is now on display at the USGA Golf House in Far Hills, N.J.

Sports in Space Continue Today

Shepard and Mitchell are still the only astronauts to play on the moon, but sports in space have continued. Just a few years ago, in 2006, cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov hit a golf ball from a platform on the International Space Station in a publicity stunt. The ball was the longest drive ever, traveling a few million miles in Earth's orbit before entering the atmosphere and burning up.

Astronauts have also taken everything from frisbees to footballs on shuttle missons, but nothing can ever quite compare with those moments on the moon 40 years ago.

Mitchell, who only went to space once, says he'd do it again tomorrow.

"Let's go!" he said.

Watch today's Conversation with more from Dr. Ed Mitchell on the 40th anniversary of sports on the moon.

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