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Golf Club

By Andrew Impey

When a Canadian golf club manufacturer claimed they wanted a spacewalking astronaut to hit a golf ball into space, many questioned if it was a harmless PR stunt or a calamity in the making. Initial fears centred on the ball being hooked into fragile solar panels or, worse still, the ball not being hit out of the international space station’s orbital plane and thus colliding on a subsequent orbit causing catastrophic damage. If this were to happen, the ball would have a potential impact speed of over 9 km per second, equivalent to a 6.5 tonne truck moving at 100 km per hour. Four!

Despite all the concerns, the shot finally got the go-ahead on November 23rd 2006. After a two hour delay due to spacesuits leak and a sixteen minute setting up time, flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin finally teed off. Given that Tyurin had only played golf twice before in his life, NASA chiefs must have been hiding behind their sofas upon impact.

They needn’t have worried as, with the aid of a gold-plated 6-iron, the ball was launched into space, albeit one-handed due to the constraints of the space suit. The sponsors claim that the ball will fly for over three years and travel two billion miles whereas the NASA boffins claim it’ll probably fall into the Earth's atmosphere and burn up within three days. So who do we believe the golfers or the scientists?

Of course this was not the first golf shot ever made in space. On February 6th 1971 Alan Shepherd hit two balls on the surface of the moon claiming they went for “miles and miles and miles”. When he’d come back down to Earth (quite literally) he agreed that it was probably more in the region of 200 – 400 yards. Interestingly, he too chose a six iron. What’s wrong with these astronauts? No rough in site and a big wide fairway – get the driver out boys.

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08 Oct 2010
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