|This NASA photograph shows the International Space Station (ISS) over a blue and white Earth, September 2006 (AFP Photo)|
A Russian cosmonaut-turned-golfer took his game out of this world Wednesday, knocking a ball from the International Space Station in a publicity stunt for a Canadian golf club manufacturer.
Aired live on NASA television, Mikhail Tyurin whacked the ball at 0057 GMT during a space walk outside the station after struggling to get into position with the help of an American astronaut.
"There it goes," Tyurin said, following his less-than-graceful swat at the ball. "I can still see it as a little dot that it is moving away from us."
There were comical moments as Tyurin and American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria tried to prepare for the orbital tee off in their bulky space suits without the benefit of gravity.
"Make sure you don't hit Michael," Russian mission control told the cosmonaut-duffer earlier, suggesting Lopez-Alegria hold down Tyurin's feet while he prepared to hit the ball.
"My legs are drifting away," complained Tyurin, as he stood outside the ladder of the space station, which was orbiting some 350 kilometers (218 miles) above eastern China.
The golf stunt was arranged under a commercial deal between the Canadian golf equipment firm Element 21 Golf and the cash-strapped Russian Space Agency (RSA).
After the scheduled tee-time was pushed back for more than hour, Tyurin managed to hit the ball on his first try, though golf enthusiasts would note he shanked the ball badly.
The cosmonaut used a gold-plated six-iron club and an ultra-light golf ball that weighs three grams, or one-tenth of an ounce.
Fitted with a small radio transmitter, the ball can be tracked by golf fans on their home computer, according to the company, which promised to donate the club to charity.
Scientists had criticized the stunt beforehand as risky and adding to the growing problem of space debris.
Russian mission control advised the two crew members to quit while they were ahead and put two other golf balls away, allowing them to get on with the more serious tasks scheduled for the remainder of their space walk.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the prime agency in the building and operating of the space station, approved the stunt after a safety review.
NASA television said the golf ball should re-enter Earth's atmosphere in two to three days.
Tyurin's celestial golfing follows in the footsteps of US astronaut Alan Shepard, who took two golf shots on the Moon in 1971.