’I heard about this the other day, and I almost did a comic double-take.
The golf club manufacturer Element 21 is planning a publicity stunt where an cosmonaut on the International Space Station will hit a ball off the station with one of its gold-plated clubs.
No, I’m not kidding. I wish I were.
You an read about it on their (incredibly annoying overly-flash-driven) website. The idea is that an cosmonaut will stand outside the space station and smack a golf ball with the club. The business arrangement for this was made with Russia, not NASA, incidentally.
The insanity of all this is so broad and deep it’s hard to know where to start. Instead, I’ll mention just the most insane thing about it: what happens to the ball after it leaves the station? I’ll tell you: it will go on a separate orbit around the Earth. Moving at approximately 18,000 miles per hour, it is the equivalent of an invisible mine, waiting to impact some other piece of space hardware. Maybe the Shuttle? Maybe some other craft?
Orbital mechanics being what they are, the ball’s orbit will intersect the Space Station’s, so that a collision between the two is
highly likely certainly possible. I have no clue what the Russians are thinking about all this. NASA claims to have given this a preliminary once-over, but not the full safety treatment.
Has everyone lost their minds? What the hell is going on?
Keith Cowing wrote a very interesting and thorough piece about this nonsense on Spaceref.com. He takes NASA and Russia to task for this, rightly so. The Russians have proven to be compliant when money is offered for stunts; it makes a difference to them between having a space program and not having one. I can sympathize with this in general, but certainly not in this specific case.
And every safety officer at NASA should be screaming bloody murder about this. Now, I can think of several ways of mitigating the safety issues, but the best and most obvious one is to not do stupid stuff like this in the first place.