Tee'd Off (Golf in Space??)

Marketing stunt under review

What is it with astronauts and golf? No doubt inspired by Alan Shephard's famous 1971 drive out of a giant lunar sand trap, another shot is due to happen soon, launched from the International Space Station as part of a controversial marketing stunt (of course), brokered by Russia and the Canadian golf-club manufacturer Element 21.

The Toronto-based company makes its clubs using an ultralight scandium alloy, the same material used in the construction of Russian fighter jets, as well as in the ISS itself. Cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov will make the drive from a specially engineered tee box using a gold-plated Element 21 six-iron—being especially careful not to hit any of the station's delicate solar panels—while wearing a cumbersome space suit. Russian officials have given the shot the green light, but NASA is still reviewing the stunt's safety implications. The chance of losing the station entirely to an impact with orbiting space debris has previously been estimated at 1 in 200, and with the ball expected to remain in orbit for three to four years, officials are worried about the increased chances of disaster when the ball comes back around in orbit traveling at approximately six miles per second.

While NASA officials deliberate, the rest of us can contemplate just how depressing it is that even space is not beyond the bounds of Earth's marketing machine (video from the shot will be used in a television commercial, and the ball will be trackable from Element 21's website). Giant floating billboards in orbit, visible at night as a giant constellation? Can't be too far off. —John Mahoney