Spacewalkers to go golfing outside station today
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: November 22, 2006
A Russian cosmonaut wielding a gold-plated golf club plans to strike an imitation golf ball this evening during a spacewalk aboard the international space station in an advertising stunt expected to result in the longest drive in golf history.
Swinging one handed in a bulky pressure suit, his boots wedged under a handrail on the Russian Pirs airlock module, Mikhail Tyurin plans to swat a three-gram ball back along the station's orbital track to help publicize a new alloy golf club for the Element 21 Golf Co.
Tyurin will be assisted by NASA astronaut Mike Lopez-Alegria, who will set up a Russian camcorder to document the shot and, he says, yell "fore!" Live television is not expected, but the shot will be videotaped by a Russian camcorder for later downlink.
Using a spring-like "tee" to keep the lightweight ball from floating off, Tyurin plans a putting-like motion to send it on its way. He will have three balls with him in case he needs an extra shot or two.
"Well, I can't say I've ever tried to swing at a golf ball one handed wearing all that kind of equipment," said CBS Sports golf commentator Jim Nantz. "I guess it's almost impossible to get a good grip around a golf club and give it your normal effort. But you know, he's up there so far away from all of us, that if he decides to give himself a mulligan after a first attempt whiff, that's OK, too. Who's going to call him on it?"
"I, of course, remember that shot so well," Nantz told CBS Radio. "The golf ball and you know, we actually had the image of it, Alan Shepard up there bouncing around, taking a swing at it. He was an avid golfer, had a home out at Pebble Beach, California, and loved to play the game. Anything to spread the word of golf around the world. Golf is not huge in Russia right now and in other parts of the world, but it is gaining steam and this certainly will help."
What golf really needs, Nantz joked, "is not to get an astronaut or a cosmonaut up there playing golf, we need to get Tiger Woods up there one time to see really what impact it has on the game. ... Of course, this will lead one day to somebody making their way up to Mars and trying a golf shot there."
Once the golf shot is complete, Tyurin and Lopez-Alegria will turn to more serious fare, installing an experiment on the upper hull of the Zvezda command module, inspecting a possibly jammed rendezvous antenna on a Progress supply ship and moving an antenna on Zvezda that interferes with a rocket thruster cover.
Here is a timeline of this evening's events (in EST and subject to change):
For today's excursion, Tyurin, making his fourth spacewalk, will have the call sign EV-1 while Lopez-Alegria, making his sixth, will be EV-2.
Tyurin, who played ice hockey as a youth in Russia, had never played golf until receiving instruction from Carol Mann, an LPGA Tour Hall of Fame golfer who lives in Houston, in preparation for the spacewalk.
"We had balls teed up for him," she told CBS Radio. "Do you know that on the third ball, he really launched it. He hit it solid, really far, and he turned around with the most joy on his face you can ever imagine."
For his part, Tyurin said "I've played twice, but then I played ice hockey. In my opinion, this is very similar except for maybe some social and cultural differences."
After reaching the station in September, Tyurin practiced his swing inside Zvezda. The club he will use is gold plated to prevent electrostatic buildup.
For safety, the balls weigh just three grams each, the equivalent of three one dollar bills. Tyurin will hit the ball, or balls, away from the station along its direction of travel, putting them on a trajectory that will ensure they never recontact the space station.
The balls are expected to re-enter the atmosphere in about three days. If that holds up, given 16 orbits per day, Tyurin's drive could exceed 1.2 million miles.
"I am sure it is safe," Tyurin said. "A lot of people say there is a possibility to meet this golf ball after one revolution because of ballistics. But because of ballistics, I can say for sure that the possibility to meet it is almost zero. It is a risk, but to meet this ball after, say, one orbit I have to shoot the ball exactly (in a specific) direction ... which is practically impossible."
The golf shot stunt is being staged under a commercial arrangement between Russian space agencies and Element 21. Asked earlier if he supported that level of commercial activity in space, Lopez-Alegria said "that's a tough call."
"I did do a little bit of an about face on the space tourism thing, I think it was in large part because of the good I see being done by people like Anousheh (Ansari) and her predecessors," he said. "I think the sort of commercialization of time, of use of time of astronauts and cosmonauts, is a little bit of another step for me. I'm not quite there yet.
"So we'll just leave it at that," he said. "We'll see how it goes, we'll see if we, NASA and the Russian space agency, get the kind of benefit that isn't just monetary out of it and if that is true, then maybe I'll turn around on that one, too."
Even so, when asked what he will be doing why Tyurin attempts the solar system's longest drive, Lopez-Alegria said "I will be behind him, yelling 'Fore!'"