Boomerang in space idea: Return to sender

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

Astronauts will be carrying important equipment to the International Space Station aboard the space shuttle Endeavour when it launches some time in March, including the first component of the $3-billion Kibo science module and the Canadian-built Dextre remote manipulator, the last piece of the Canadarm 2 and likely Canada's last major contribution to the space station.

And oh yes, they'll be bringing a boomerang.

Japanese officials said astronaut Takao Doi will be travelling aboard the shuttle with a boomerang to see if a paper version of the traditionally wooden tool will return to its sender in zero gravity conditions, according to AFP.

"Mr. Doi said he will personally carry a paper boomerang for the upcoming mission and we presume he will try it when he has spare time," said an official of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

It seems to us the test might prove difficult because of the cramped conditions on the station: last time we checked, the recently installed Harmony module has less than 35 cubic metres of living space, and other parts of the station are similarly cramped.

It's not the first highly identifiable object to be launched from, or inside, the station.

In December 2006, Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang, a former national Frisbee champion, brought a Frisbee up to space to see how long he could keep it spinning in the station's air: 20 seconds, according to one report.

And in 2005 Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev shanked a golf ball off the ISS as part of a promotion with Toronto-based Element 21 Golf Company.

We understand these stunts are sometimes done to attract attention - or in the case of the golf ball, to attract money - to a project that often leaves the public cold. But surely there are better things to do in space than attempt to ping-pong a boomerang through the narrow passages of the space station?

Doi reportedly decided to conduct the boomerang test after he received a request from a Japanese world boomerang champion. Perhaps what NASA, ESA and Japan's space agency should do is give the public some say in the zero-gravity passtimes astronauts should pursue; create a contest like What do You Want to See Done in Space? It could be like the old David Letterman episodes, where the late night talk show asked the audience what it wanted to drop from a six-story building.

Would this be science? Likely not. But at least it would be honest in its purpose.