Golf War II

Golf War II

Golf War II

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 7 2006 9:58 AM

Golf War II

Physorg.com has an article (evidently syndicated through AFP) about the ridiculous and dangerous idea of a cosmonaut hitting a golf ball off the space station.

In that article is this line, about how difficult it is to hit the ball the way you want:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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The ball thus could quite easily be mis-hit and travel only a couple of metres (a few feet), or be hooked or sliced and sent in entirely the wrong direction.

Um. Um. In space, with no air, what will stop the ball after "a couple of metres"? If it hits a strut or bulkhead, it'll bounce off and continue on in another direction. And hooking or slicing it will prove difficult, since those shots depend on gravity and air (to be fair, by "hook" and "slice" the author meant the ball might be hit too far to the left or right, but technically those types of motion are due to the ball interacting with air).

Too bad the article has no byline, or I'd email the author. I tried the contact page for AFP, but they want my phone number! No way. Maybe this will filter over to them.

Incidentally, in the comments from my last blog entry is an ongoing conversation about the chances of the ball coming back to hit the station. I first thought yes it will, then I wasn't so sure. But then I read the article linked above, where Heiner Klinkrad, acting head of space debris at the European Space Agency (ESA), had this to say:

For the ISS, the most probable collision velocity in the worst-case scenario is somewhere at 10 to 11 kilometres (six to 6.5 miles) per second... The international recommendations are that you should not throw out unnecessary objects, and I wouldn't qualify a golf ball as a mission-related object.

He doesn't give the odds, and so it's hard to know how low the chances are of a collision later. But given all the uncertainties, this strikes me as a dangerously foolish stunt. If/when NASA's people finish their study, I'll post a synopsis here.