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Cosmonaut Prepares for Out-of-this-World Golf Shot


Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will attempt to jettison a golf ball into orbit around the Earth in September when he makes his second trip to the International Space Station. If Tyurin's shot proceeds as anticipated, the golf ball will be in orbit for more than three years, travel some 2 billion miles, and be tracked via the Internet.

Over 35 years ago, astronaut Alan Shepard reached into his pocket, pulled out two golf balls and with one hand on a makeshift 6-iron, hit approach shots across the surface of the Moon. In celebration of the late Shepard's Apollo 14 mission, NASA approved on July 11, 2006, a new initiative to take golf into the final frontier.

World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Mann and PGA Director of Instruction Rick Martino (center) prepare Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin for Out of this World Golf Shot. "The Golf Shot Around the World Mission," sponsored by Element 21 Golf Company of Toronto, Canada, is an ambitious project that will introduce golf to the International Space Station. And PGA professionals are key players.

PGA Director of Instruction Rick Martino of the PGA Learning Center of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and World Golf Hall of Famer Carol Mann of The Woodlands, Texas, were invited to give a golf lesson to Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. This September, the 46-year-old Tyurin will make his second trip to the International Space Station, after having spent a 125-day term in space in 2001.

Tyurin will serve as commander and flight engineer on a crew for Endeavor XIV. In November, Tyurin will step outside the Space Station, affix a tether around his waist and then attempt to jettison a golf ball into orbit around the Earth. Provided the Extra Vehicular Activity goes as planned, Tyurin will strike a gold-plated E21 ball perched on an elaborate metal netting tee with a gold-plated E21 6-iron. The gold plating is necessary for safety purposes.

If Tyurin's shot proceeds as anticipated, the golf ball will be in orbit for more than three years, travel some 2 billion miles, and unlike Shepard's famed Moon balls, this shot will be tracked via the Internet.

But, the tee shot is not random, and it may be the most scientifically-planned golf shot in history. Before NASA would give its approval, Tyurin, a ballistics expert, mapped a flight plan that would ensure that the ball would not circumnavigate the Earth and smash into either the Space Station or other orbiting satellites. "Out there, there is no margin for error," said Mann.

Martino and Mann met Tyurin on July 20 at South Shore Harbour Country Club in League City, Texas, some 10 minutes from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Appropriately enough, the lesson occurred on the 37th anniversary of the Apollo 11 module lunar landing and the first man on the moon.

"I was honored to meet him, and I am in awe of what it takes to operate in that program," said Mann, a PGA member since 2002, and winner of 38 Tour titles. "It's a thrill to be involved in something that will bring more attention to golf."

Martino and Mann agreed that their golf lesson with Tyurin, a former college hockey player who lives outside Moscow, was one of the most challenging of their careers. "We were teaching a beginning golfer, but we first had to learn the restrictions and physical dimensions that Mikhail would encounter while preparing to hit a golf ball into outer space," said Martino. "We began by developing his grip, and judging how he would hold the golf club in front of himself while wearing a heavy suit, tethered and his legs braced against the Station.

"Next, we stressed that he should stay in his posture. He practiced grip, posture and rotating the club in an arc and staying in balance."

As Tyurin got more comfortable with his instructors, he also found that he could make solid contact with a 6-iron. Martino and Mann explained that Tyurin could not make a full swing and worked to restrict his swing "lane" around his body. "When his posture bent forward, I tried to tell him to straighten his back, and he didn't understand," said Mann. "So, I said, 'military posture,' and he immediately understood me.

"You should have seen the look on his face when he hit the ball flush. He hit it probably more than 70 yards. When you consider what he went through already and what he plans to do to train for this we really don't know how easy we have it on Earth when it comes to this game!"

Following the golf lesson, the teachers and their student dined in Houston. Mann said that she could not forget the innocent remark Tyurin made just before they parted. "Mikhail said, 'What if I don't have the proper form? Will it still be OK? "

During his training over the next month, Tyurin will continue practicing to hit a golf ball while swinging under water at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, just outside of Moscow.

"Mikhail said that he couldn't get enough of the enjoyment of hitting a golf ball," added Martino. "After our lesson had ended, he couldn't stop hitting balls. He asked me for a copy of the PGA Manual of Golf to take into space and study during his voyage. He said that upon his return to Earth he has plans to become a golfer."