- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — There won’t be a fairway or a green in sight, and it’s a far cry from Augusta National, but the International Space Station could be turned into a driving range this summer.

Cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, who took over command of the space station last week, hopes to hit a gold-plated golf ball during an August spacewalk.

Because of zero gravity, Mr. Vinogradov’s drive will make golf’s long-distance hitters such as John Daly look positively feeble. The ball, equipped with a tracking device, is expected to remain in orbit for several years.

The low drive from the space station — which travels at 17,000 mph, 250 miles above Earth — is a publicity stunt for Element 21 Golf Co., a Canadian-based golf club manufacturer.

NASA officials were still reviewing the safety of the stunt, which has been approved by the Russian space agency. NASA is expected to make a decision at a later date.

“Being a golfer, I’m interested in it, too,” Kirk Shireman, NASA’s space station deputy program manager, said recently. “But we’re absolutely going to make sure it’s a safe thing to do before we execute it.”

NASA officials want to ensure a bad slice or hook won’t send the golf ball careening into the spacecraft, or that a bad backswing won’t cause Mr. Vinogradov to strike the station with his six-iron club.

Mr. Vinogradov has practiced driving the ball in his baggy spacesuit in a training pool and in an airplane that simulates weightlessness.

Element 21 Golf paid the Russian space agency an undisclosed amount to allow the stunt. Golf balls, the six-iron club and a special platform were delivered to the space station in October.

The company says it wants to publicize its new line of golf clubs and commemorate the 35th anniversary of astronaut Alan Shepard hitting golf balls on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission.

Certain adjustments for zero gravity were made. The company designed a platform in which Mr. Vinogradov can hook his feet and a tee that spirals around the ball to hold it in place. Because of Mr. Vinogradov’s bulky spacesuit, his swing will be one-handed.

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