Moonwalker’s Golf Club Now Hanging Out In New Jersey Museum

During that heady time when NASA was sending people to the moon, Apollo astronaut Al Shepard — so the story goes — was showing comedian Bob Hope around a NASA center. Hope went into a simulator for the lighter lunar gravity and swung a golf club around (a habit of his) as he bounced around.

“That was the inspiration, I guess,” said Michael Trostel, the curator and historian at the United States Golf Association Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. In other words, the inspiration for Al Shepard to bring a golf club to the moon and hit a couple of balls. The golf club, in fact, is at the USGA Museum today.

Of course, it wasn’t so easy just to bring a six-iron on board — there were science experiments and other payloads for the Apollo 14 crew. According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the golf club was actually “a contingency sample extension handle with a No. 6 iron golf club head attached.”

Unusually, as space artifacts tend to head over to the Smithsonian after missions, this particular one ended up at the USGA Museum itself. In 1972, when singer Bing Crosby (also a friend of Hope’s and Shepard’s) was a member of the board, he wrote to Shepard on behalf of the museum and asked for the club. Shepard agreed and handed it over during a special ceremony in 1974.

“The reason that it’s not in this museum was that it was personal property of Alan Shepherd. In other words, he took it to space, he brought it back, it was still his personal property he donated it and it was his. That’s the reason,” said Claire Brown, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s communications director.

“Things were a little different back then. You could take a certain amount of personal property. There are different rules now, but at the time that he did it, he was able to bring his own personal club.”

A close-up of the golf club used by Apollo 14 astronaut Al Shepard on the moon. Credit: USGA/USGA Museum
A close-up of the golf club used by Apollo 14 astronaut Al Shepard on the moon. Credit: USGA/USGA Museum

Tributes Mount As Sally Ride’s 30th Anniversary In Space Approaches

Sally Ride was only 32 years old when she flew into space for the first time 30 years ago, in June 1983. She died last year at 61, at an age that many considered very young. In that generation of time, however, the exploits of America’s first woman in space in flight and education touched countless Americans.

This week, the accolades are piling up for the two-time space flyer. Besides her astronaut exploits, she was a Rogers Commission investigator of the 1986 Challenger explosion and the founder of Sally Ride Science, which encourages children to pursue careers in science, technology, education and math (STEM).

In the past few days alone, Ride generated a bunch of posthumous tributes:

– She will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom sometime later this year;

– NASA made a new internship program named after her;

– The EarthKAM science instrument (which includes participation from students) on the International Space Station will bear her name.

And that’s not all. There were also star-studded public ceremonies devoted to her memory.

Student dancers from the North Carolina School of the Arts perform during a  national tribute to Sally Ride at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on May 20, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Student dancers from the North Carolina School of the Arts perform during a national tribute to Sally Ride at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on May 20, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Music, art and science all met at a gala at Washington, D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Monday (May 20). The performances focused on things that had meaning to Ride, NASA stated, including a performance of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and a reading of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.”

Speakers at the event included astronaut Leland Melvin (now NASA’s associate administrator for education), astronaut Pam Melroy (a former space shuttle commander), and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

“I’m thrilled to pay tribute to Sally because her dedication and superb talent cemented the value of women’s contributions in space and in science, smoothing the path for all women to achieve success,” stated Melroy.

“Sally showed the world what was possible, opening the eyes of millions of women and men to what could be. Her achievements in space inspired a generation of young women, and her achievements in STEM education will pass that legacy of inspiration on to future generations.”

The Smithsonian also held a lecture in honor of Ride’s memory on May 17.

The 1.5-hour lecture (which is just above this text and definitely worth your time to see) includes commentary from a cross-section of space experts on Ride’s legacy. Speakers represented everything from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to NASA’s Johnson Space Center to USA Today.

“We all admire Dr. Ride, but I don’t know that everyone in the room appreciates fully and remembers fully the history of what she accomplished,” said Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the Smithsonian’s space history division who focuses on women in aviation, in opening remarks to the event.

Weitekamp pointed to investigations in the 1950s concerning women in space, showing that they could have advantages over men: they’re smaller (easier to fit in a spacecraft) and at the time were linked to studies showing women have fewer pulmonary problems, a higher tolerance to pain, and better performance in isolation tests.

She also cited early forays for women in space, including Lovelace’s Women in Space program, which she characterized as the first thorough physiological investigation of how women fare in that field. You can read more about their exploits on this NASA page.

What do you think is Sally Ride’s greatest legacy? Share your thoughts in the comments.