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Out of this world: Shepard put golf on moon 50 years ago – Red Deer Advocate



Fifty years later, it remains the most impressive bunker shot in the history of golf, mainly because of the location.

The moon.

Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard and his crew brought back about 90 pounds of moon rocks on Feb. 6, 1971. Left behind were two golf balls that Shepard, who later described the moon’s surface as “one big sand trap,” hit with a makeshift 6-iron to become a footnote in history.

Francis Ouimet put golf on the front page of American newspapers by winning the 1913 U.S. Open. Gene Sarazen put the Masters on the map by holing a 235-yard shot for an albatross in the final round of his 1935 victory.

Shepard outdid them all. He put golf in outer space.

“He might have put golf on the moon map,” Jack Nicklaus said this week. “I thought it was unique for the game of golf that Shepard thought so much about the game that he would take a golf club to the moon and hit a shot.”

Shepard became the first American in space in 1961 as one of NASA’s seven original Mercury astronauts. After being sidelined for years by an inner ear problem he became the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon as Apollo 14 commander.

But he did more than just walk the moon.

Shepard waited until the end of the mission before he surprised American viewers and all but a few at NASA who did not know what Shepard had up his sleeve — or in this case, up his socks. That’s how he got the golf gear in space.

“Houston, you might recognize what I have in my hand as the contingency sample return; it just so happens to have a genuine 6-iron on the bottom of it,” Shepard said. “In my left hand, I have a little white pellet that’s familiar to millions of Americans.”

He hit more moon than ball on his first two attempts. The third he later referred to as a shank. And he caught the last one flush, or as flush as an astronaut can hit a golf ball while swinging with one hand in a pressurized spacesuit that weighs 180 pounds (on Earth).

“We used to say it was the longest shot in the history of the world because it hasn’t come down yet,” famed golf instructor Butch Harmon said with a laugh.

Harmon is loosely connected with the shot through his relationship with Jack Harden Sr., the former head pro at River Oaks Country Club in Houston whom Shepard asked to build him a 6-iron he could take to the moon. Harden managed to attach the head of a Wilson Staff Dyna-Power 6-iron to a collapsible tool used to collect lunar samples.

The shots did come down on the moon. Still up for debate is how far they went.

“Miles and miles and miles,” Shepard said in a light moment that was broadcast in colour to a captive television audience watching from nearly 240,000 miles away.

Not quite. The shot for years has been estimated at 200 yards, remarkable considering how much the bulk of his spacesuit restricted Shepard’s movement. He had even practiced in his spacesuit in a bunker in Houston when no one was around.

On occasion of the 50-year anniversary, British-based imaging specialist Andy Saunders provided a more accurate account. Saunders, who is working on a book called, “Apollo Remastered,” worked out through digital enhancing and stacking techniques of video footage that the first shot went 24 yards. The second ball went 40 yards.

Former PGA champion Jimmy Walker hits a 6-iron about 200 yards on Earth. Walker, a space enthusiast with a skill and passion for astrophotography, worked with the USGA and Saunders as the Apollo 14 anniversary neared to see how far he could hit a 6-iron in one-sixth gravity of the moon.

“He was known for saying miles and miles,” Walker said. “They took my launch conditions and said my ball would fly 4,600 yards and it would have just over a minute of hang time.”

That would be a little over 2 1/2 miles.

That also would be a conventional 6-iron while wearing golf shoes and a sweater vest.

What stands out all these years later is Shepard even thinking about taking a golf club to the moon and back. The inspiration came from Bob Hope, who carried a golf club just about everywhere he went. That included a trip to Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston a year before the Apollo 14 mission.

According to USGA historian Michael Trostel, that’s what made Shepard realize a golf shot would be the ideal illustration of the moon’s gravitational pull. To build a club, he found the right person in Harden at River Oaks.

“He was incessant tinkerer with equipment,” said Brandel Chamblee, a Golf Channel analyst and longtime friend of Harden’s son. “I would tease Jack and his father, any club they got had been ‘Hardenized.’ No club off the rack was ever good enough for them. They always changed the lie, the loft, the bounce. They used lead tape. It was apropos he made Shepard’s 6-iron.”

Convincing his superiors took some doing. In a 1998 interview with NASA, Shepard said he ran his idea by the director of the Manned Spaceflight Center who told him, “Absolutely no way.” Shepard told him club and two golf balls wouldn’t cost the taxpayers anything. And he would only do it if the entire mission was a complete success.

Shepard said he told director Bob Gilruth, “I will not be so frivolous. I want to wait until the very end of the mission, stand in front of the television camera, whack these golf balls with this makeshift club, fold it up, stick it in my pocket, climb up the ladder, and close the door, and we’ve gone.”

The actual club is one of the prize exhibits at the USGA Museum in New Jersey, which came with one awkward moment.

“He donates it at a ceremony at the 1974 U.S. Open,” Trostel said. “NASA called him later and said it was looking at the club for the Smithsonian. He said he already had donated it to the USGA Museum. They said, ‘Mr. Shepard, that’s government property.’ We had a replica commissioned and gave it to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.”

For years, no one knew what golf balls he used and Shepard was determined to avoid any commercialism. Chamblee and Harmon unlocked the mystery this week, and it came with a twist.

They were range balls from River Oaks.

“Within the Hardens, the legacy is he gave him golf balls from the range that had ‘Property of Jack Harden’ on them,” Chamblee said. “Technically — if the balls aren’t melted — Jack is the only person who owns property on the moon.”

All because of a one-handed swing by Shepard, still the only person to hit a golf ball on the moon.

“It was designed to be a fun thing,” Shepard said in the 1998 interview, five months before his death at age 74. “Fortunately, it is still a fun thing.”

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After 45 years, NASA's Voyager 1 space probe encounters mystery issue – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



(CNN) — The Voyager 1 probe is still exploring interstellar space 45 years after launching, but it has encountered an issue that mystifies the spacecraft’s team on Earth.

Voyager 1 continues to operate well, despite its advanced age and 14.5 billion-mile distance (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth. And it can receive and execute commands sent from NASA, as well as gather and send back science data.

But the readouts from the attitude articulation and control system, which control the spacecraft’s orientation in space, don’t match up with what Voyager is actually doing. The attitude articulation and control system, or AACS, ensures that the probe’s high-gain antenna remains pointed at Earth so Voyager can send data back to NASA.

Due to Voyager’s interstellar location, it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel one way, so the call and response of one message between NASA and Voyager takes two days.

So far, the Voyager team believes the AACS is still working, but the instrument’s data readouts seem random or impossible. The system issue hasn’t triggered anything to put the spacecraft into “safe mode” so far. That’s when only essential operations occur so engineers can diagnose an issue that would put the spacecraft at risk.

And Voyager’s signal is as strong as ever, meaning the antenna is still pointed to Earth. The team is trying to determine if this incorrect data is coming directly from this instrument or if another system is causing it.

“Until the nature of the issue is better understood, the team cannot anticipate whether this might affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit science data,” according to a NASA release.

“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.

“The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space — a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”

If the team doesn’t determine the source of the issue, they may just adapt to it, Dodd said. Or if they can find it, the issue may be solved by making a software change or relying on a redundant hardware system.

Voyager has already relied on backup systems to last as long as it has. In 2017, the probe fired thrusters that were used during its initial planetary encounters during the 1970s — and they still worked after remaining unused for 37 years.

The aging probes produce very little power per year, so subsystems and heaters have been turned off over the years so that critical systems and science instruments can keep operating.

Voyager 2, a twin spacecraft, continues to operate well in interstellar space 12.1 billion miles (19.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. By comparison, Neptune, the farthest planet from Earth, is, at most, only 2.9 billion miles away. Both probes were launched in 1977 and have far exceeded their original purpose to fly by planets.

Now, they have become the only two spacecraft to gather data from interstellar space and provide insights about the heliosphere, or the bubble created by the sun that extends beyond the planets in our solar system.

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Boeing's Starliner ready to launch to space station on 2nd test flight –



Boeing’s new Starliner capsule was set for launch on Thursday on a do-over uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station, aiming to deliver the company a much-needed success after two years of delays and costly engineering setbacks.

The gumdrop-shaped CST-100 Starliner was scheduled for liftoff at 6:54 p.m. ET from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, carried atop an Atlas V rocket furnished by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA).

ULA said Wednesday evening forecasts called for a 70 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions for an on-time launch.

If all goes as planned, the capsule will arrive at the space station about 24 hours later, docking with the research outpost orbiting some 400 kilometres above Earth at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday.

The Boeing craft is to spend four to five days attached to the space station before undocking and flying back to Earth, with a parachute landing cushioned by airbags on the desert floor of White Sands, New Mexico.

A successful mission will move the long-delayed Starliner a major step closer to providing NASA with a second reliable means of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

Since resuming crewed flights to orbit from American soil in 2020, nine years after the space shuttle program ended, the U.S. space agency has had to rely solely on the Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules flown by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.

Payload and model passenger

The Starliner will not be flying to orbit empty. The capsule will carry a research mannequin to collect data on crew cabin conditions during the journey, plus 500 pounds of cargo for delivery to the space station’s crew — three NASA astronauts, a European Space Agency astronaut from Italy and three Russian cosmonauts.

Two of the U.S. astronauts will be tasked with boarding the capsule during Starliner’s stay to take measurements of its interior environment and unload the supplies.

Thursday’s launch marks a repeat of a 2019 test mission that failed to achieve a successful rendezvous with the space station because of a flight-software malfunction. Subsequent problems with Starliner’s propulsion system, supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne, led Boeing to scrub an attempt to launch the capsule last summer.

NASA astronauts Suni Williams, left, Barry (Butch) Wilmore, centre, and Mike Fincke, right, watch as an Atlas V rocket with Starliner spacecraft aboard is rolled out to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 ahead of the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The spacecraft remained grounded for nine more months while the two companies sparred over what caused its fuel valves to stick shut and which firm was responsible for fixing them.

Boeing says it has since resolved the glitch with a temporary workaround and plans to redesign the propulsion system’s fuel valves system after this week’s flight.

Starliner was developed with a $4.5 billion US fixed-price NASA contract to provide the U.S. space agency a second avenue to low-Earth orbit, along with SpaceX, and has proven costly to Boeing.

Delays and engineering setbacks with Starliner have led the aerospace giant to take $595 million US in charges since the capsule’s 2019 failure, even as the company strives to climb out of successive crises in its jetliner business and its space-defence unit.

If the second uncrewed trip to orbit succeeds, Starliner could fly its first team of astronauts in the fall, though NASA officials caution that time frame could get pushed back.

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Mike Fincke had been designated to fly Starliner’s maiden crewed mission. But NASA officials, reluctant to tie down two astronauts to a flight whose launch date is uncertain, said Wednesday the mission could end up carrying at least two of any of the four astronauts now training to test-fly Starliner.

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Dusty demise for NASA Mars lander in July; power dwindling – CGTN



A NASA spacecraft on Mars is headed for a dusty demise. 

The InSight lander is losing power because of all the dust on its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will keep using the spacecraft’s seismometer to register marsquakes until the power peters out, likely in July. Then flight controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year, before calling everything off. 

“There really hasn’t been too much doom and gloom on the team. We’re really still focused on operating the spacecraft,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bruce Banerdt, the principal scientist. 

Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes; the biggest one, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago. 

It will be NASA’s second Mars lander lost to dust: A global dust storm took out Opportunity in 2018. In InSight’s case, it’s been a gradual gathering of dust, especially over the past year.

NASA’s two other functioning spacecraft on the Martian surface – rovers Curiosity and Perseverance – are still going strong thanks to nuclear power. The space agency may rethink solar power in the future for Mars, said planetary science director Lori Glaze, or at least experiment with new panel-clearing tech or aim for the less-stormy seasons.

InSight currently is generating one-tenth of the power from the sun that it did upon arrival. Deputy project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough power to run an electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes; now it’s down to 10 minutes max. 

The InSight team had anticipated this much dust buildup, but hoped a gust of wind or dust devil might clean off the solar panels. That has yet to happen, despite several thousand whirlwinds coming close. 

“None of them have quite hit us dead-on yet enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters. 

Another science instrument, dubbed the mole, was supposed to burrow 16 feet (5 meters) underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German digger never got deeper than a couple of feet (a half-meter) because of the unexpected composition of the red dirt, and it finally was declared dead at the beginning of last year.

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