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SpaceX aces last Dragon parachute test before crew launch – Spaceflight Now

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A Crew Dragon mass simulator descends under four main parachutes during a drop test Friday. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX completed Friday the last drop test of the Dragon crew capsule’s parachutes before the first launch of astronauts on the human-rated ship May 27, while technicians at Cape Canaveral have mated the spacecraft’s crew module with its unpressurized trunk section.

The drop test from a C-130 cargo plane Friday was the 27th and final test of the “Mark 3” parachute design SpaceX will use for the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Drogue parachutes and then four main chutes unfurled from a test vehicle designed to mimic the Crew Dragon’s weight during return to Earth.

SpaceX said in a tweet that the parachute test moves the Crew Dragon “one step closer” to flying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station, “and safely returning them back to Earth.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s Dragon processing team at Cape Canaveral have connected the spaceship’s pressurized crew module with the spacecraft’s rear trunk, which generates electricity through body-mounted solar panels and houses radiators for thermal control in orbit.

The parachute and spacecraft processing milestones kick off a busy month of preparations ahead of the the Crew Dragon’s launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket set for May 27 from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The test flight will head for the International Space Station, where Behnken and Hurley will live and work for one-to-four months before returning to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just off Florida’s East Coast.

The launch later this month will mark the first time astronauts have flown into Earth orbit from a U.S. spaceport since the retirement of the space shuttle in July 2011.

“My heart is sitting right here (motioning to throat), and I think it’s going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the International Space Station,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, in a press conference Friday. “But between now and then, there’s still work to do.”

NASA has awarded SpaceX more than $3.1 billion since 2011 to develop, test and fly the Crew Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX has put in its own funding, but Shotwell could not provide a figure Friday for the level of internal funds SpaceX has spent on developing the crew capsule.

The public-private partnership is a hallmark of NASA’s strategy since the end of the space shuttle program to commercialize transportation to and from low Earth orbit, beginning with cargo services for the space station pioneered by SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and the Cygnus supply ship owned by Northrop Grumman, formerly known as Orbital ATK.

“This is a new generation, a new era in human spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when I say it’s new what I mean is, NASA has long had this idea that we need to purchase, own and operate hardware to get to space. In the past that has been true, but now, in this new era … NASA has an ability to be a customer, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in low Earth orbit.”

NASA selected Boeing alongside SpaceX in 2014 to design and build new commercial spaceships to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. Boeing’s Starliner ship is unlikely to fly with astronauts until early 2021 after an unpiloted test flight in December encountered software trouble, preventing the capsule from docking with the space station.

Bridenstine said NASA and SpaceX are continuing preparations for the Crew Dragon test flight — designated Demo-2 — amid the coronavirus pandemic while introducing new physical distancing guidelines for the astronauts and support teams.

“We’re going to do it in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” Bridenstine said. “I’m going to tell you that this is a high-priority mission for the United States of America. We, as a nation, have not had our own access to the International Space Station for nine years.”

In the time since the last shuttle flight, all astronauts traveling to the space station have flown aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. In the most recent agreement with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, NASA paid the Russian government more than $80 million per round-trip seat on the Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA’s inspector general last year reported the agency is paying SpaceX approximately $55 million per Crew Dragon seat.

Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, said Friday that NASA and SpaceX engineers are “making sure that all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed” in preparation for the Crew Dragon launch.

In parallel with hardware preparations at the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX and NASA engineers are completing pre-flight data analyses, safety assessments and readiness reviews.

The work in the coming weeks will make sure SpaceX and NASA “are ready for this important mission to safely fly Bob and Doug up to the International Space Station, serve as a lifeboat, and return them to their families,” Lueders said.

“This is a humbling job,” she said. “I think we’re up to it.”

Behnken, 49, will serve as joint operations commander for the Demo-2 mission, responsible for rendezvous, docking, undocking and other activities at the International Space Station. Hurley, 53, will be the spacecraft commander, responsible for launch, landing and recovery, according to NASA.

Both astronauts joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2000, and each has flown twice on space shuttle missions. Behnken and Hurley are also both married to other astronauts.

“I think we have a different perspective of the importance of coming to Florida, launching again on an American rocket from the Florida coast,” Behnken said. “And generations of people who maybe didn’t get a chance to see a space shuttle launch, getting a chance again to see human spaceflight in our own backyard, if you will, is pretty exciting to be a part of.

“I think that’s the thing that’s most exciting for me, as well as on my first flight, I didn’t have a small child,” he said. “I didn’t have a son, so I’m really excited to share the mission with him and have him have a chance to be old enough at six to see it and share it with me when I get home and while I’m on orbit.”

Astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken (right) pose for a photograph at launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida before the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon In-Flight Abort Test in January. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Hurley piloted the shuttle Atlantis on the final space shuttle mission in July 2011.

“It’s well past time to be launching an American rocket from the Florida coast to the International Space Station, and I am certainly honored to be part of it,” Hurley said.

“We would be asked questions along the lines of, well, the space program is over because the shuttle is not flying,” Hurley said. “And that certainly was not the case. We’ve had people on board the International Space Station since the fall of 2000. And we continue to fly to the space station on Soyuz vehicles. So part of it was just a lack of understanding by the public as far as what we were continuing to do as an agency, but it was also the time it took to develop new vehicles in order to take their place, take the shuttle’s place, to get folks to and from the International Space Station from the United States.”

Once Behnken and Hurley return to Earth, NASA will formally certify the Crew Dragon for regular crew rotation flights to the space station, each carrying four astronauts. Another Crew Dragon is scheduled for launch later this year with three NASA astronauts and a Japanese space flier.

The Dragon crew has essentially been in quarantine since March, when the threat of coronavirus interrupted daily life for millions of Americans. Behnken and Hurley will begin a formal quarantine protocol next week, then spend a few days inside a controlled facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston before flying to Kennedy in a NASA aircraft May 20.

The astronauts will participate in a final integrated simulation Monday with NASA and SpaceX ground controllers and mission managers.

“Then we start a quarantine process which escalates as we get closer to launch,” Hurley said. “And we also get some off time to kind of get everything in our lives sort of squared away since we’ve been busy getting ready for this flight, and we are likely to be in space for a few months.”

“We have a few more sims with SpaceX, we’ll have some proficiency sims later on, before we go down to Kennedy,” Hurley said. “And then we’ll get down to Kennedy around six or seven days before launch and then spend the rest of the time (in Florida) prepping from that location in the astronaut crew quarters down there.”

SpaceX plans a flight test readiness review May 8, followed by a NASA-led test readiness review May 11.

Lueders said Friday that NASA has reviewed SpaceX’s investigation into an engine failure that occurred on a Falcon 9 launch in March. One of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines shut down prematurely during a launch with 60 Starlink Internet satellites, but the rocket overcame the malfunction and still delivered the payloads to their intended orbit.

“We’re finishing testing on some other launch vehicle components,” Lueders said. “We have reviewed the anomaly resolution of the Starlink launch and actually have cleared the engines on our vehicle for that failure, so that actually is behind us right now.

“But like everybody knows, the spacecraft is still processing, the launch vehicle is still processing, and as you’re processing vehicles there are little issues that come up that we have to work through,” Lueders said. “Most of our human certification activities are being completed with this mission, so the team is going through really about 95 percent of the human-rating certification on this mission.”

In mid-May the Dragon spacecraft is expected to be transferred from a processing facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the nearby Kennedy Space Center, where the crew capsule will be attached to its Falcon 9 launcher inside a hangar near the southern perimeter of pad 39A.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft’s pressurized module has been mated with the ship’s unpressurized trunk section at Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX

Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to fly to Florida’s Space Coast on May 20.

A test-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled around May 22, followed the next day by a “dry dress” rehearsal when the astronauts will put on their black and white SpaceX flight suits and strap inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the launch pad.

A launch readiness review is scheduled for May 25.

On May 27, Behnken and Hurley will again put on their flight suits inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy, the same facility where Apollo and shuttle astronauts prepared for launch. They will ride inside a Tesla Model X from the O&C Building to pad 39A, passing by the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building and the Press Site on the way to the seaside launch complex.

They will begin boarding the Crew Dragon spaceship around three hours before liftoff. SpaceX’s ground crew will close the Dragon’s side hatch and evacuate the pad before fueling of the Falcon 9 rocket with super-chilled kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants.

SpaceX’s sleek crew access arm, installed on pad 39A in 2018, will retract around 42 minutes before liftoff. The Dragon’s powerful abort engines will be armed 37 minutes prior to launch, giving the astronauts the ability to escape an explosion or other emergency during fueling of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Kerosene and liquid oxygen will begin flowing into the two-stage launcher 35 minutes before liftoff, which is timed for 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT) on May 27.

Assuming liftoff occurs May 27, the Crew Dragon is slated to autonomous dock with the International Space Station on May 28 at approximately 11:29 a.m. EDT (1529 GMT).

Hurley and Behnken will take over manual control of the spaceship at multiple points during the Dragon’s trip to the space station, testing out their ability to fly the capsule using novel touchscreen controls in the cockpit.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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How the NFL made it to Super Bowl with no COVID-19 game cancellations – Axios

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How the NFL made it to Super Bowl with no COVID-19 game cancellations – Axios_60206e7fa4cd5.jpeg

The NFL’s giant COVID-19 experiment ends Sunday with the improbable feat of an on-time Super Bowl, capping a season with no canceled games.

Why it matters: The season suggests that with the right resources, safety measures and cooperation — all of which have been lacking in the general U.S. response — life can go on during the pandemic without uncontrolled spread of the virus. 

The big picture: The NFL decided early on that it wouldn’t require its thousands of players, coaches and other staff to live in a “bubble,” as other sports leagues had done.

  • Instead, the league scaled up the public health basics of social distancing, testing, contact tracing and isolation across all 32 teams. To prevent spread, officials were prepared to postpone games or bench players.

Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, told Axios: “The approach we took was to appreciate that there was an expectation that individuals would get COVID — and what could we do to prevent it from spreading throughout our facilities.”

  • “Our protocols were built on that premise — that living in our 32 communities during a pandemic was a risk, but we wanted to ensure that as best as possible we could prevent” virus spread.

Between the lines: Some of the NFL’s findings were published by the CDC — including what the league learned about transmission of the virus. 

  • The most important changes the league had to make over time related to “our evolution of what a high-risk contact was,” Miller said.

The league discovered that risky contacts with an infected person weren’t limited to 15-minute interactions within 6 feet. The definition instead became more complex, factoring in time, distance, ventilation and mask-wearing. 

  • “Those four factors all had an interplay within them, which was, in our experience, vastly more complicated than six feet and 15 minutes,” Miller said.

The bottom line: “We never saw the virus transmitted across the line of scrimmage,” Miller said — even when players who later tested positive participated in the game. 

  • The league was able to confirm this was the case through genetic sequencing.

Go deeper: Super Bowl preview

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Coronavirus Variant First Found in Britain Now Spreading Rapidly in US – The New York Times

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Coronavirus Variant First Found in Britain Now Spreading Rapidly in US – The New York Times_60206e79978b2.jpeg

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus first found in Britain is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, according to a new study.

Analyzing half a million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes, a team of researchers predicted that in a month this variant could become predominant in the United States, potentially bringing a surge of new cases and increased risk of death.

The new research offers the first nationwide look at the history of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, since it arrived in the United States in late 2020. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that B.1.1.7 could become predominant by March if it behaved the way it did in Britain. The new study confirms that projected path.

“Nothing in this paper is surprising, but people need to see it,” said Kristian Andersen, a co-author of the study and a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “We should probably prepare for this being the predominant lineage in most places in the United States by March.”

Dr. Andersen’s team estimated that the transmission rate of B.1.1.7 in the United States is 30 percent to 40 percent higher than that of more common variants, although those figures may rise as more data comes in, he said. The variant has already been implicated in surges in other countries, including Ireland, Portugal and Jordan.

“There could indeed be a very serious situation developing in a matter of months or weeks,” said Nicholas Davies, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study. “These may be early signals warranting urgent investigation by public health authorities.”

Dr. Davies cautioned that U.S. data is patchier than that in Britain and other countries that have national variant monitoring systems. Still, he found results from some parts of the United States especially worrisome. In Florida, where the new study indicates the variant is spreading particularly quickly, Dr. Davies fears that a new surge may hit even sooner than the rest of the country.

“If these data are representative, there may be limited time to act,” he said.

Dr. Andersen and his colleagues posted their study online on Sunday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.

When the British government announced the discovery of B.1.1.7 on Dec. 20, Dr. Andersen and other researchers in the United States began checking for it in American coronavirus samples. The first case turned up on Dec. 29 in Colorado, and Dr. Andersen found another soon after in San Diego. In short order it was spotted in many other parts of the country.

But it was difficult to determine just how widespread the variant was. B.1.1.7 contains a distinctive set of 23 mutations scattered in a genome that is 30,000 genetic letters long. The best way to figure out if a virus belongs to the B.1.1.7 lineage is to sequence its entire genome — a process that can be carried out only with special machines.

The C.D.C. contracted with Helix, a lab testing company, to examine their Covid-19 samples for signs of B.1.1.7. The variant can deliver a negative result on one of the three tests that Helix uses to find the coronavirus. For further analysis, Helix sent these suspicious samples to Illumina to have their genomes sequenced. Last month Helix reached out to Dr. Andersen and his colleagues to help analyze the data.

Analyzing 212 American B.1.1.7 genomes, Dr. Andersen’s team concluded that the variant most likely first arrived in the United States by late November, a month before it was detected.

The variant was separately introduced into the country at least eight times, most likely as a result of people traveling to the United States from Britain between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The researchers combined data from the genome sequencing with Helix’s overall test results to come up with an estimate of how quickly the variant had spread. It grew exponentially more common over the past two months.

In Florida, the scientists estimate that more than 4 percent of cases are now caused by B.1.1.7. The national figure may be 1 percent or 2 percent, according to his team’s calculations.

If that’s true, then a thousand or more people may be getting infected with the variant every day. The C.D.C. has recorded only 611 B.1.1.7 cases, attesting to the inadequacy of the country’s genomic surveillance.

In parts of the country where Helix doesn’t do much testing, it is likely delivering an underestimate of the spread, Dr. Andersen cautioned. “I can guarantee you that there are places where B.1.1.7 might be relatively prevalent by now that we would not pick up,” he said.

“There’s still a lot that we have to learn,” said Nathan Grubaugh, a virologist at Yale University who was not involved in the study. “But these things are important enough that we have to start doing things now.”

It’s possible that chains of B.1.1.7 transmission are spreading faster than other viruses. Or it might be that B.1.1.7 was more common among incoming travelers starting new outbreaks.

“I still think that we are weeks away from really knowing how this will turn out,” Dr. Grubaugh said.

The contagiousness of B.1.1.7 makes it a threat to take seriously. Public health measures that work on other variants may not be enough to stop B.1.1.7. More cases in the United States would mean more hospitalizations, potentially straining hospitals that are only now recovering from record high numbers of patients last month.

Making matters worse, Dr. Davies and his colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine posted a study online on Wednesday suggesting that the risk of dying of B.1.1.7 is 35 percent higher than it is for other variants. The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal.

Communities can take steps to fight variants like B.1.1.7, as Dr. Grubaugh and his Yale University colleagues recently described in the journal Cell. For instance, they said, health officials should reinforce messaging about wearing effective masks, avoiding large gatherings and making sure indoor spaces are well ventilated.

The scientists also urged governments to require sick leave for people diagnosed with Covid-19 to stop workplace spread. “Such measures could help to significantly reduce community transmission,” Dr. Grubaugh and his co-authors wrote.

Vaccinations can also be part of the strategy to fight B.1.1.7. In Israel, where the variant is now predominant, new cases, severe illnesses and hospitalizations have already dropped significantly in people over 65, a group that was given top priority for vaccines.

“What we need to do with the current vaccines is get them into as many people as we can as quickly as possible,” Dr. Andersen said.

Driving down B.1.1.7 will also reduce the risk that the variant will evolve into something even worse. Already in Britain, researchers have found samples of B.1.1.7 that have gained a new mutation with the potential to make vaccines less effective. It’s not clear whether these viruses will become common. But they demonstrate that the coronavirus has a lot of evolutionary space left to explore.

“We should expect them to crop up here,” Dr. Andersen said. “Whatever was true elsewhere is going to be true here as well, and we need to deal with it.”

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Fifty years ago, Alan Shepard blasted from an endless sand trap and we just now found his ball – pennlive.com

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Fifty years ago, Alan Shepard blasted from an endless sand trap and we just now found his ball – pennlive.com_60206e737481d.jpeg

The most widely watched golf shot in history did not occur in a major tournament. It wasn’t even in a PGA event. In fact, it did not take place on Earth. And, as it turns out, its distance has been embellished by legend.

It was a one-handed chip with a converted Wilson Staff 6-iron club head adapted to an aluminum moon rock sample scooper. And the golfer was Alan Shepard, first American in space, 5th man on the Moon.

Shepard hit two golf balls on live television exactly half a century ago yesterday at the end of the Apollo 14 moonwalk. Because of the portable TV camera’s perpendicular angle to the flight of the ball, exactly how far the shots went was left up to the commentary of the jocular original “Mercury seven” astronaut. The first one, he clearly duffed.

But the second one appeared to be nutted and Shepard suggested it might’ve gone “miles and miles!”

Well, not exactly. But who’s keeping track?

Nobody really, until a 46-year-old British imaging specialist named Andy Saunders used his skills to enhance the clarity of long-sequestered video and photography from Apollo 14 and other moon missions. And the results are nothing short of astounding.

Saunders’ painstaking work used both new digital and traditional photo techniques to improve the brightness, sharpness and contrast of the 5-decade-old Apollo moon program (1968-72) shots so that we now can see more clearly all sorts of details hidden before – from the desolate gray surface to obscured faces of astronauts behind their helmet visors to intricate features of the lunar landers and equipment to, yes, the exact position of Shepard’s two golf shots.

Lunar golf ball

Enhanced NASA photo that now clearly shows one of Alan Shepard’s golf balls.Andy Saunders/NASA

Saunders’ photographs will be available later this year in a book entitled Apollo Remastered, to be published by Penguin Random House. Some have been posted and can be seen on the publisher’s advance website, ApolloRemastered.com.

Being the son of an industrial engineer at Apollo command/service module subcontractor North American Rockwell, I grew up amid the wonder of the U.S. space program. So, I was eager to spend a half hour on Friday with Saunders by phone from his home in Culcheth, Cheshire county, England.

As Saunders explains it, the original and clearest film negatives were socked away in NASA cold storage until very recently:

“Somewhere in the last five years, they finally got the original flight film out of the freezer and scanned it to an incredible resolution in about 1.3-gigobyte file sizes. And every minute detail that was in that camera is on this digital file.”

For someone like Saunders – a space nut since childhood who had developed considerable skill with image enhancing – this was like a gift from heaven.

“But of course, in an analog world, with photochemical processing, they weren’t designed for digital; they were designed to have light shining through them onto paper or in projection. So, you need to digitally enhance them to get the best out of them. And that’s what I’ve been using.”

Andy Saunders

British photo imaging specialist and author Andy Saunders will publish a book of his enhanced images of NASA’s moon landings later this year, to be entitled “Apollo Remastered”.Penguin Random House

Considering the advances in digital enhancement technology just over the past decade, this offered a unique opportunity to significantly clarify some of the most important images in human history.

So, how far did those 6-iron shots go in one-sixth gravity? That’s been a subject of hyperbolic conjecture, not just a little encouraged by the playful Shepard before his death in 1998.

We’ll get to that. But first some background on how Shepard managed to golf on Earth’s sand trap satellite in the first place. He had been seeded with the idea by an offhand crack from Bob Hope during the comedian’s visit to the Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston in 1970. The idea stuck with Shepard when he was slated for Apollo 14 later that year.

Shepard tells the entire story of the lunar golf shot at 1:02:30 of an 88-minute interview with former NBC spaceflight correspondent and Philadelphia native Roy Neal conducted in 1998, five months before the astronaut’s death from leukemia:

“I was an avid golfer. And before the flight, I was intrigued that a ball, with the same clubhead speed, would go six times as far and it’s time of flight would be at least six times as long. It would not curve, because there’s no atmosphere to make it slice or hook.

“So, I thought: What a neat place to whack a golf ball.”

When Shepard approached NASA manned spaceflight director Bob Gilruth with his idea, the response was immediate and emphatic: Forget about it. But Shepard persisted with an explanation: The only extra cargo was the clubhead, crafted by a pro he knew in Houston, plus a couple of golf balls:

“Which I paid for myself,” Shepard added with puckish grin. “No taxpayer expense.”

All of that would be left on the lunar surface. If anything at all went amiss during either of two 4½-hour extravehicular activities (EVA) on the Moon, Shepard agreed he wouldn’t do it. If everything went as planned, he’d hit a couple of balls at the very end of the second EVA on Feb. 6, 1971, climb up the ladder with partner and lunar module pilot Ed Mitchell and close the hatch.

In other words, it was sort of the mic drop of the show. And by that point in the Apollo program – with moon missions incredibly becoming old hat more than two years after the first lunar orbit of Apollo 8, and 18 months after the first manned landing of Apollo 11 – the show mattered. Gilruth relented.

Lunar 6-iron

The lunar 6-iron, used by NASA astronaut Alan Shepard during the Apollo 14 moonwalk on Feb. 6, 1971. A Houston golf pro friend of Shepard’s made the club from a Wilson 6-iron head and a lunar-sample-scooper handle. Shepard later donated the club to the USGA museumGetty Images/Steve Pyke

As it turned out, all went swimmingly with Shepard and Mitchell’s EVA, so out came the modified club head and two balls the commander had stowed in a pocket in his suit. He snapped it on the moonrock scooper, tossed a ball in the dust and addressed it with some great flair.

Shepard knew from trying out his flexibility in the bulky suit during training that there was no way he could either manage much of a backswing or keep both gloved hands on the scooper handle. His vision was also limited by inability to bend his neck much inside the EVA helmet. So, he used his right hand only and tried a sort of flick at the ball like a gardener whacking weeds with a scythe.

His first stroke at the first ball barely moved it. The second try was shanked and obviously didn’t go far, prompting a mocking reaction from Mitchell. But after the third and final try, on a second ball, Shepard exclaimed as if he was Lee Trevino admiring a perfect drive: “Miles and miles and miles!” That’s the shot viewers imagined might’ve flown on and on, unencumbered by atmosphere.

Saunders has been working on all the Apollo moon footage for years now. Some of the results are stunning. In one, you can now clearly see Neil Armstrong’s face behind his visor, a rare shot anyway because he had the still camera for most of the EVA and almost all the lunar shots you see of Apollo 11 are of lunar module pilot and fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

So, the Apollo 14 enhancement is only part of a massive project. But the Shepard golf ball search was an obvious attraction:

“Before, maybe you could find a golf ball in the old quality. It looked a bit like a rock even in the new high-res scans. But [now] you could zoom in so far, because they were in such high resolution, and process them hard enough that you could tell – that was definitely a golf ball.”

Alan Shepard's golf shots

Wide-frame of Apollo 14 landing site with locations of divots and ball landing spots of Alan Shepard’s golf shots.NASA

Saunders was able to find and triangulate the position of both balls using frontal and lateral still photos from the portable lunar camera and overhead photos from the video camera atop the ascent stage of the lunar module as it blasted off to return to the command module.

The conclusion: Shepard’s first shot went 24 yards. The landing spot of his second one, which had never before been glimpsed, was not in fact “miles and miles” away, as most who knew Shepard’s mischievous nature pretty much suspected – but a mere 40 yards.

Alan Shepard's golf shots

Enhanced still frame taken from lunar ascent vehicle camera as Apollo 14 blasted from the lunar surface, including Shepard’s golf balls and Ed Mitchell’s “javelin” throw of an unused metal rod.Andy Saunders/NASA

Another tall golf tale. Saunders gives him all credit regardless:

“One-handed, quarter swing, can’t see properly, with that giant backpack on, hitting from effectively the biggest sand trap in the solar system? Well done.”

Theoretically, how far could a golf ball be driven on the moon by some bomber such as Bryson DeChambeau, given a hypothetical future in which humans could be protected from the extreme lunar temperatures in formfitting coveralls we can’t imagine today, maybe at some sort of sheltered lunar Topgolf franchise? Saunders did the math and says Shepard’s exaggeration would no longer be one: about 3.41 miles.

Alan Shepard was a man of myriad accomplishments including uncommon bravery as both a jet fighter test pilot, not to mention his mounting a Redstone rocket in 1961, previous editions of which had blown up on the pad, to be first American to ride the fire into space.

Yet, nuttily enough, he is still possibly best known 23 years after his death for being the only Moon golfer.

He probably wouldn’t mind, as he later affirmed of that 6-iron from a bad lie:

“It was designed to be a fun thing. Fortunately, it was a fun thing.”

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