BEN BOVA: Sept. 25, 2011 ... One long drive: Laying out the 1st golf course on the Moon

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A few weeks ago I wrote a column about golf. Now I’m working on a short piece of fiction about constructing a golf course — on the Moon.

Over the years I’ve written several novels set on the Moon, realistic novels that show how human explorers and entrepreneurs will develop self-sufficient communities on our natural satellite.

It won’t be easy. The Moon is airless: the vacuum at the Moon’s surface is actually even thinner than the vacuum in low Earth orbit.

On the Moon’s surface the temperature in daylight can rise to nearly 270 degrees Fahrenheit, while in shadow the temperature plummets to 240 below zero. You can experience a temperature drop of more than 500 degrees merely by stepping from sunlight to shade.

The Moon’s surface is also bathed in hard radiation from the Sun and stars, and dust-mote-sized meteors pepper the surface constantly.

A harshly dangerous place. Lunar settlements will therefore be built underground, or beneath protective domes.

But a golf course would have to be out in the open.

A bit of golf has already been played on the Moon. During the Apollo 14 mission, in 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard teed up a golf ball on the Moon’s sandy surface and hit it with an improvised golf club.

Reports vary on how far the ball traveled, and Shepard had to swing with only one arm, because the spacesuit he was wearing was too stiff to allow him to grip his club with both hands.

So who would build a golf course on the Moon, and why?

Sam Gunn, that’s who. As for why …

I’ve written dozens of short stories about Sam Gunn. Sam’s a scamp, a scoundrel, a loud-mouthed, sawed-off, womanizing entrepreneur who’s made — and lost — many fortunes in various space industries.

Sam once sued the pope over “acts of God” that cost him billions in damages that his insurance carrier refused to cover. He developed a method of clearing orbital space of debris that endangered satellites and space stations. He built a Las Vegas-style entertainment complex on the Moon.

And now he’s setting up a golf course to entice tourists to his entertainment complex.

A considerable challenge, to say the least.

The Moon is a quarter of the size of Earth, and its gravity is only one-sixth of ours. And remember, the Moon’s surface is airless. This means that a golf ball struck on the Moon should fly much, much farther than it would on Earth.

So the fairways of a lunar golf course would have to be a lot bigger than courses on Earth. Some of the cups might be over the horizon from their tees.

The ground is sandy, about the consistency of beach sand. Golf balls don’t roll very far in such grit. Putting will be touchy.

And golfers on the Moon will have to be wearing spacesuits, which tend to be stiff, inflexible. Difficult to get a good, smooth swing from inside such protective clothing.

In my story, I have the course architect use plasma torches to make the greens and fairways smooth enough for decent putting. And, at Sam’s suggestion, they are painted green.

But wait! As they say in the TV commercials, there’s more!

The surface of the Moon, whether naturally sandy or smoothed by the hand of man, is littered with rocks, large and small. And little craterlets, caused by the impact of meteors that are bigger than dust motes. There are also sinuous rilles here and there, meandering cracks in the ground.

No trees, no tall grass, no water hazards, but there are plenty of problems for golfers. The whole place is a big sand trap, with rocks and craterlets thrown in.

Why would anybody want to play golf in such a forbidding place? Why do people play golf here on Earth? Certainly the challenge of overcoming the obstacles must be a part of the lure of golf.

Or maybe it’s masochism.

Whatever, I am convinced that if someone builds a golf course on the Moon, men and women will trek out there to play. And an entrepreneur like Same Gunn just might make some money out of it.

Ben Bova has brought together all his Sam Gunn stories in the one-volume SAM GUNN OMNIBUS. Dr. Bova’s website address is www.benbova.com.

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