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1971: Man plays golf on the Moon

The first manned mission to the Moon since the near-disastrous Apollo 13 is on its way home after two successful moon walks.

There was just one moment of serious concern: as Apollo 14 left its orbit around the Earth for the Moon, a docking probe failed to work, putting the mission's ability to return in jeopardy.

In the event, a manual docking went perfectly.

There were also light-hearted moments. At the end of today's moonwalk, Alan Shepard became the first man to hit a golfball on the Moon, using a ball and golf club head he had smuggled on board inside his space suit.

He hit two balls just before lift-off, and drove them, as he put it, "miles and miles and miles".

Major success

Overall, the mission was pronounced a major success.

The lunar module, known as Antares, landed within 87 feet (26 metres) of its target point just north of the rim of the Fra Mauro crater - the site originally planned for the aborted Apollo 13 mission.

It was chosen for its exposed rock formations, part of a geological feature covering much of the near side of the Moon.

Shepard and his colleague, Edgar Mitchell, were able to go further from the lunar module than before with their "modularised equipment transporter" - a cart which allowed them to carry equipment and store lunar samples.

The cart also meant they could bring back more moon rock than ever before - about 100 lbs (45 kg) compared to the 75lbs (34 kg) brought back by Apollo 12.

They included samples of very old, crystalline "continental" rocks, almost white, which may be up to 4,500 million years old.

Longest moonwalk

In all the pair spent more than nine hours exploring the Moon - longer than in any other mission.

One of their main scientific aims - a climb to the rim of the 400-foot (120 meters) high Cone Crater - had to be called off after Shepard registered a heartbeat of 150.

Mitchell also found the climb difficult, saying it was "a darn hard climb to try rapidly. The soil is a bit thin and mushy and these suits are bulky".

The next mission, Apollo 15, is scheduled for launch in July. Nasa plans to send a lunar rover car with the astronauts to send them even further away from base in exploring the Moon.

In Context
Apollo 14 was the first of the so-called scientific missions to the Moon.

Having conquered the technical difficulties of landing a man on the Moon and returning him to Earth, Nasa scientists could now concentrate on collecting data about the origins of the Moon itself.

The next mission, Apollo 15, brought back more of the ancient white crystallised rock, including the Genesis Rock, thought to date back to the formation of the Moon thousands of millions of years ago.

The last three of the original 20 Apollo missions were cancelled, and the last lunar module, Apollo 17, landed in December 1972.

In January 2004 however, US President George Bush announced American astronauts would return to the Moon by 2020 as the launching point for journeys further into space.

Edgar Mitchell retired from Nasa in 1972 and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organisation dedicated to the study of parapsychology, in California.

Alan Shepard, who was also the first American in space in 1961, retired from Nasa in 1974 and died in July 1998 at the age of 74.


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