The Second Moon Olympics Nearly Ended In Disaster

The Second Moon Olympics Nearly Ended In Disaster

In the last minutes of their voyage to the Moon fifty years ago, two astronauts utilized the “Lunar Olympics” to make the normal Olympics look like a school sports day. However, one astronaut came dangerously close to dying. “It was 1972, and there were going to be the Olympics in Munich that year, so we were going to do the ‘Moon Olympics,” Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke explained the choice to Business Insider, albeit the term “Moon Olympics” is somewhat self-explanatory.

Duke and his commander, John Young, attempted a number of Earth events, knowing that the lessened gravity (about one-sixth that of the Earth) would aid their attempts to break records. Young threw a javelin, a piece of equipment that was no longer needed, in one of the events. According to NASA’s official mission transcripts, he said, “Tony, I’m going out for the olympics.” “I merely swung the small Gary bar on the ALSEP package, the crooked one, for around 200 meters [650 feet], it appeared. That’s it for the other one. On the hammer throw, it’d be a crazy ride. Take a look at that beauty.”

“Outstanding,” Young said to NASA, adding, “I’m sure he’ll hold the record now.” Though they didn’t realize it at the time, the high jump is one of the Olympic events that is too dangerous to perform on the Moon. Young subsequently recalled in his book, “I decided to join in and made a big push off the moon, getting about 4 feet [1.2 meters] high.” “The weight of my bag, though, dragged me backward when I straightened up. I was now lying flat on my back. I tried but failed to correct myself, and while my pulse raced with dread, I plummeted 4 feet [1.2 meters] and landed hard – right on my backpack.”

“Panic!” he exclaimed. “My thoughts raced with the idea that I was about to die. It was the first time during our entire lunar stay when I had a genuine panic attack and felt I had committed myself. The backpack and suit were not meant to withstand a 4-foot [1.2-meter] fall. I would have lost my breath if the backpack had snapped or the suit had torn open. I would have died instantly if I had had a rapid decompression, or as one friend refers to it, a high-altitude hiss-out. Fortunately, everything came together in the end.”

Duke subsequently told Insider that the bag, which held all of his life-support devices, weighed as much as he did. The fall did not impress his commander, who told him, “That ain’t very smart.” Young concurred, stating “That isn’t very clever. So, please accept my apologies.” On February 6, 1970, the inaugural Moon Olympics were held, with astronauts Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell throwing a portion of a solar wind collector like a javelin. Shepherd is best known for bringing a golf club head to the Moon, attaching it to the handle of a sample-collection equipment, and hitting numerous golf balls.

His first shots were poor, brushing the top of the ball and sending it only a few feet (you’ll note the pros don’t like golf club heads attached to sample instruments). He connected on the third swing, apparently spurred by the fact that this was counting against his score, and the ball sailed out of shot on a low trajectory. Shepard nailed the second ball on the first try and thought it had traveled “miles and miles and miles.” One of the balls was discovered in a nearby crater by fellow astronaut Edgar Mitchell, but the second wasn’t discovered until image specialist Andy Saunders digitally enhanced scans of the original video taken during Apollo 14.

Instead of the “miles and miles and miles” Shepard thought he’d hit, Saunders’ research indicated that, despite the Moon’s low gravity, the ball had only traveled a little distance. “We can now pretty correctly conclude that ball number one traveled 24 yards [22 meters] and ball number two traveled 40 yards [36 meters],” Saunders wrote for the US Golfer’s Association (USGA). Regardless, America’s victory in the first-ever Moon Olympics was a huge one.