John Johnson in the LA Times:
In what will easily be the longest chip shot in golf history, a cosmonaut is scheduled to hit a gold-plated golf ball this summer from a makeshift tee outside the International Space Station.
If all goes as planned, the 17,000-mph drive will travel 2.1 billion miles before burning up in the atmosphere, giving a Canadian golf club manufacturer the kind of publicity that can't be found back on Earth.
But even before the space golfer tees off, the event has drawn hisses from galleries of critics who fear that an errant shot could punch a hole in the yet-to-be completed $53-billion, 206-ton space station.
Although the risk of serious damage is small, critics say, the stunt sends the wrong signal. Instead of a state-of-the-art scientific laboratory, the station will be seen as a haven of commercialized blarney on a cosmic scale.
The out-of-this-world tee shot is the brainchild of Nataliya Hearn, an engineering professor at the University of Windsor in Canada who is also president and chief executive of Toronto-based Element 21 Golf Co.
Three-year-old Element 21 Golf is developing a line of clubs made of an alloy of scandium, the 21st element in the periodic table — hence the company's name. Element 21 Golf unveiled its clubs at a golf show in January, but they haven't yet reached retailers, a company official said.
Scandium is used in light bulb filaments and, when alloyed with aluminum, it is used to make bicycles, baseball bats and other sports gear. "It's very light and very strong," Hearn said.
The idea to use the space station as a giant floating tee box came a couple of years ago, when Hearn and her partners were trying to figure out ways to market their space-age clubs.
"Is this the right message to be sending to taxpayers in America, Russia, Europe and Japan — that it's OK to do a stunt like this?" said Keith Cowing of nasawatch.com, a feisty website that frequently challenges NASA policies.