Apollo’s Feast Day – Golf Balls on the Moon

February 9


February 9th is Showtime for Apollo, the sun god of the ancient Greeks, whose chariot rode across the heavens each day.

February 9 wasn’t the only feast for Apollo. The Spartans celebrated Apollo in August (Carneia). The Athenians celebrated his birthday in May (Thargelia) and held a harvest festival in his honor in October (Pyanepsia).

But according to Roman records, at some point the Festival of Apollo was celebrated on the Vth (5th) day before the Ides (13th) of February.

Unlike the Ides of March, the Ides of shorter months were observed on what we consider the 13th of the month, not the 15h.

Yes, the 9th is actually four days before the 13th, not five, but the Romans always included the dates they were counting from and to. In other words, by Roman calculations Wednesday would be three days before Friday, and the 9th would five days before the 13th. (Don’t think about it, just thank the Arabs.)

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In the Christian Era, February 9 became the Feast Day of St. Apollonia and the Martyrs of Alexandria. No they weren’t ancient Egypt’s pop fusion sensation, but a group of early Christians who were killed in 249 AD by angry pagan mobs. Among the Christians was Apollonia, whose teeth were beaten out. Then, when she was ordered to renounce Christ or be burned alive, she leapt into the fire to meet her death.

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In more recent times, a third Apollo milestone occurred on February 9:

Sixty-eight years after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk, another charioteer of the heavens, Apollo 14, splashed into the Pacific Ocean on February 9, 1971, having completed a successful mission on the moon.

Though not the first trip to the moon, Apollo 14 was a much needed success after the disastrous Apollo 13 mission, in which man’s cutting-edge technology crashed down to Earth in Icarian defeat.

More important, Apollo 14 was the first time in history that anyone played golf on a planet other than Earth. (Okay, technically, a satellite, but still…)

Alan Shepard attached a six-iron head to a metal collection device, with which he hit two golf balls on the surface of the moon. Shepard was admittedly no Tiger Woods…

Actual transcript:

Shepard: Got more dirt than ball. Here we go again.

Mission Control: That looked like a slice to me, Al.

No, I’m not making that up. Fortunately, Shepard’s third swing went “miles and miles and miles” by his own calculation. Shepard’s estimate was later reduced to only a few hundred yards.

Either way, the drive was indisputably out of this world…


How Many Golf Balls are on the Moon?

Cosmonaut’s Day – Yuri’s Night

April 12

The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows
Where her son flies in the sky

—Russian song whistled by Yuri Gagarin during the first manned space flight

Yuri Gagarin

For thousands of years, humans stared at the skies wondering about the composition of the stars, lights that shined through pinpoints in the banner of heaven. It took millennia for our knowledge of the skies to coalesce. And it wasn’t until 1903 that Wilber and Orville Wright appeared to have conquered gravity, albeit briefly.

Yet only six decades after that first flight, a human being transcended into outer space. That man was Yuri Gagarin. The day was April 12, 1961—now celebrated as Cosmonaut’s Day.

The 27 year-old Russian pilot stood only 5’2″, an advantage for the world’s first cosmonaut, crammed into the tiny cockpit of the spacecraft Vostok 3KA. The Vostok launched from Baykonur, Kazakhstan, at 9:07 am Moscow Time. The flight lasted only 108 minutes, but in that time Yuri Gagarin circled the globe, a feat that had taken Magellan’s crew three years.

As late as early April there had been six contenders for the first cosmonaut. Gagarin wasn’t finalized as the pilot of the craft until just two days before the flight. And if some officials had their way, we would be celebrating “Herman’s Night” today instead of “Yuri’s Night.” Herman Titov was Yuri’s backup.

According to Gagarin, the flight went mostly smoothly. He didn’t report an emergency during the mission, but:

“As soon as TDU (breaking engine) shot down, there was a sharp jolt. The spacecraft started spinning about its axis with a very high speed…Everything was spinning. One moment I see Africa — it happened over Africa — another the horizon, another the sky. I barely had time to shade myself from the sun, so the light did not blind my eyes.”

The 20th century Icarus faired better than his Greek predecessor. Gagarin ejected from the crafted at 10:44 am and landed safely.

His post-flight report wasn’t published until decades after the flight.

By beating the first American into space (Alan Shepard) by one month, Gagarin helped the Soviet Union emerge as the apparent leader in aeronautic technology, and the space race was on. Yuri went from complete obscurity to a national hero—perhaps THE national hero for two generations of Russians.

Gagarin legacy far outlasted his life. He died in 1968 in a training flight crash. He was only 34 years old.

Cosmonautics Day was established by the Soviet Union in 1962. Today April 12 is also known as Yuri’s Night, celebrated around the world in honor of the 5’2″ giant who first touched the heavens.