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How would you spend your downtime in space?

  • August 06, 2022

For entertainment during their mission, astronauts often pack games in a personal locker. Astronaut Greg Chamitoff packed this chess set with added fabric fasteners so the pieces wouldn't float away.

During his rest time, he played with flight controllers around the world.

Chamitoff playing chess in space with his specialized chess set
(photo credit NASA International Space Station)

Eventually a "Space vs. Earth" chess match was set up in which Chamitoff in space faced off against the third grade U.S. national chess championship team on Earth. People voted online on possible moves the team posted. Earth won.

You can view Chamitoff's chess set up close if you make a visit to the Space Center Houston in Texas. This chess set was once speeding at five miles per second, 210 miles above the Earth, on shuttle mission STS-124.

Chamitoff added Velcro to the chess pieces to keep them from floating away in weightlessness. He played long-distance chess during his mission in his off time with station control centers around the world. 

Chamitoff was undefeated until he played a down-to-earth meeting with his opponents in Bellevue, WA.

Ten students from Stevenson Elementary had recently achieved high rankings at the National Scholastic Chess tournament.

The students would select 4 possible moves together, and put them out to the public for vote, the process facilitated by the US Chess Federation.

Eventually Earth won.

Although, Chamitoff did not know the students personally, but they became friends over video. Six months and 21 days after the match began, they finally met in person.

“Oh boy, you guys are amazing,” Chamitoff said after he strode into a small ballroom to greet his opponents, from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue.

Their elevated chess play was largely thanks to Chess4Life which enabled the kids to not only excel at the game but train and develop key life skills.


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