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Never let it be said that the space programme is a waste of time and money.

A Russian cosmonaut headed for the International Space Station plans to hit a golf ball into the Earth's orbit while on spacewalk, it has been announced.

The record-breaking drive is raising eyebrows all round, with some experts warning of a "catastrophic" mishap. The ball will stay in orbit for three to four years, adding to the station's space debris threat.

Worried NASA man JC Liou told New Scientist an impact from a golf ball travelling at 10km per second would be the equivalent of a six and a half tonne truck at 100km per hour - a pretty big hit by any standards.

NASA had previously put the chances of losing the $100bn station to a hull-penetrating smash in any given year at one in 200.

However, the tools for the job are already on board: a gold-plated scandium alloy six iron, and several golf balls.

Predictably, a publicity-hungry golf gear company - who shall remain nameless - is behind the caper. If NASA approves the folly, it will go ahead in July. ®

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