In space, nobody can hear you scream "Fore!"
Then again, "fore" isn't something Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin is likely to shout out Wednesday when he strikes a lightweight golf ball with a special 6-iron from outside the international space station, in a promotional stunt for a Canadian golf club manufacturer.
Tyurin will be too busy trying to keep his balance during the one-handed swing in his bulky spacesuit. He'll have one foot wedged in between the hand rails of a ladder on the outside of the space lab. Fortunately, he'll be tethered, as astronauts are for all spacewalks.
And if you're disappointed over the lack of sound, sorry ... you won't be able to see Tyurin's golf swing either — at least not in real time. The cameras aren't in position for it, although his crewmate will be filming it for the golf club maker, E21 Golf, to use later.
The start of Wednesday's six-hour spacewalk was delayed for more than an hour — first due to a problem with a cooling hose on Tyurin's spacesuit, and then due to snags with the hatch on the space station.
The golf stunt is the first task on the agenda for Tyurin and U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria. The spacewalkers' other jobs are more like real work — fixing a space station antenna and retrieving science experiments.
The tee-off was supposed to take place earlier this year, but the U.S. space agency wanted more time to be sure the stunt would have little chance of damaging the space station, NASA officials said.
"I've been practicing ... I think I'm in good enough shape," Tyurin told The Associated Press last week from the space station.
E21 paid an undisclosed sum for the stunt, which company officials have said commemorates the 35th anniversary of astronaut Alan Shepard's memorable golf swing on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.
It follows other commercial ventures at the space station that the Russian space agency has allowed, sometimes to the chagrin of NASA, such as bringing aboard paying tourists. The cash-strapped Russians also have allowed Pizza Hut to paint its logo on a rocket and have a pizza delivered to the space station. And it once charged PepsiCo $5 million to have cosmonauts float a replica of a soda can outside the Mir space station.
NASA has taken a grin-and-bear-it attitude. The U.S. space agency is indebted to its Russian partner for flying U.S. astronauts to the space station while shuttles were grounded after the Columbia disaster.
The weight of the golf ball is 3 grams, only about one-fifteenth the weight of a normal golf ball. That's to minimize any damage should it actually strike something. Tyurin also intends to give it just a tap rather than a full-fledged drive, for the same reason. Because his spacesuit is so stiff for a two-handed grip, he'll take a one-handed swing — just as Shepard did 35 years ago.
The ball will be struck toward Earth, but because it and the space station are whizzing around the planet at a speed of more than 17,000 mph (27,300 kilometers per hour), its trajectory won't be straight down. Rather, it will follow a gradually decaying orbit. NASA predicts the ball will re-enter Earth's atmosphere in three days. E21, however, is hoping the ball will stay in orbit much longer — for as long as three years.
In either case, NASA says the ball shouldn't pose a threat to either the space station or the shuttle Discovery, set to launch Dec. 7.
Tyurin, a novice golfer who got training on Earth from pros, will have three golf balls for as many tries. The balls will be held in place by a springlike tee which surrounds the ball. The tee is attached to a handrail on the outside of the space station.
If Tyurin has trouble balancing himself, Lopez-Alegria will hold him in place.
Although Tyurin is unlikely to pull a Tiger Woods and demand silence during his swing, the space station's deputy program manager, Kirk Shireman, joked that at Mission Control, "We'll all be talking in very hushed voices."
This report includes information from MSNBC.com.