Russian cosmonaut to hit golf ball from international space station in stunt Wednesday

Wednesday, November 22nd 2006, 6:12 am
By: News On 6

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ How's this for a handicap: A Russian cosmonaut will strike a lightweight golf ball from outside the international space station in a promotional stunt _ but he'll swing one-handed and with one foot wedged in between the hand rails of a ladder.

Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will use a special 6-iron for the tricky shot _ though a 3-wood might be a better suited club for the 242-mile distance to the nearest green.

The promotion for a Canadian golf club manufacturer is the first task for Tyurin and U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria during a six-hour spacewalk set to begin around 6 p.m. EST. Wednesday. Their other jobs include fixing a space station antenna and retrieving science experiments.

``I've been practicing ... I think I'm in good enough shape,'' Tyurin told The Associated Press last week from the space station.

Should he have difficulty maintaining his balance with his awkward stance, a caddy-like Lopez-Alegria will hold him in place. He will be tethered, as astronauts are for all spacewalks.

And though there's no out-of-bounds in the vastness of space, Tyurin will have a couple of mulligans at his disposal _ three golf balls for as many tries.

Golf fans will have a less than perfect view.

Cameras aren't in position on the Russian side of the space station, where the stunt will take place, although cameras on the U.S. side might be able to capture some distant images. His crewmate will set up a camera to record it for the golf club maker, E21 Golf, to use later.

E21 paid an undisclosed sum for the stunt, which company officials have said commemorates the 35th anniversary of astronaut Alan Shepard's memorable golf swing on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.

It follows other commercial ventures at the space station that the Russian space agency has allowed, sometimes to the chagrin of NASA, such as bringing aboard paying tourists. The cash-strapped Russians also have allowed Pizza Hut to paint its logo on a rocket and have a pizza delivered to the space station. And it once charged PepsiCo $5 million to have cosmonauts float a replica of a soda can outside the Mir space station.

NASA has taken a grin-and-bear-it attitude. The U.S. space agency is indebted to its Russian partner for flying U.S. astronauts to the space station while shuttles were grounded after the Columbia disaster.

NASA predicts that Tyurin's tee shot will re-enter Earth's atmosphere in three days and isn't a threat to either the space station or the shuttle Discovery, set to launch Dec. 7.

The weight of the golf ball is 3 grams, only about 1/15th the weight of a normal golf ball. That's to minimize any damage should it actually strike something.

Although Tyurin is unlikely to pull a Tiger Woods and demand silence during his swing.