Reports | October 01, 2008 17:00

Austronaut vs school children: 1.d4 Nf6

It's the first public chess match between someone in space against an opponent on earth: since last Monday astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, floating 210 miles (about 340 kilometers) above earth, is playing a chess game in space against a group of school children in the United States.

NASA and the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) are involved in the first public chess match between astronaut Greg Chamitoff, in orbit aboard the International Space Station, and the public. Key players in the game, which began on Monday, Sept. 29, are the kindergarten through third grade U.S. Chess Championship Team and its chess club teammates from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash.

The K-3 champions select up to four possible moves each time it is Earth's turn, and then the public votes on which move will be made. NASA transmits the "winning" move to Chamitoff, who will respond. The USCF is facilitating the match on its website at www.uschess.org/nasa2008.

Greg Chamitoff plays chess with ground controllers from inside
the space station's Harmony module. | Photo: NASA

"For the past 10 years, the International Space Station has been an important platform to learn about living in space. We're excited to have the opportunity to engage not only young students, but the public at large in this unique chess match," said Heather Rarick, lead flight director for the current space station mission at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"We hope the excitement and interest this game generates will inspire students to become interested in chess," said USCF Executive Director Bill Hall. "Chess is a valuable tool to lead students to become interested in math and to develop critical thinking skills, objectives we focus on in our work with schools nationwide."

Flight Director Chris Edelen in Houston's station flight control room ponders/>a move he hopes will reboost Earth's position. | Photo: NASA

Chamitoff, a station flight engineer now speeding around the Earth at five miles a second, is a chess aficionado who brought a chess set with him when he arrived at the complex on the STS-124 space shuttle mission in June. Chamitoff has added Velcro to the chess pieces to keep them from floating away in weightlessness.

With him on the station for Expedition 17 are Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko. Chamitoff is set to return home on a shuttle mission in November. Aboard the station, the crew is supported by control centers at sites around the world -- in the United States, Moscow, Japan, Germany, France and Canada. Chamitoff has been playing long-distance chess in his off time with those control centers during his mission. So far, he is undefeated.

Greg Chamitoff looks for a new angle as he prepares for his next move
against flight control teams. | Photo: NASA

The game against the public will move at a pace of one move per day on weekdays only. Play may be slower, however, because Chamitoff only makes moves when his workload permits. Whenever Chamitoff responds, the Earth will respond after the public votes. At this point the game has reached the moves 1.d4 Nf6.

Note that the photos in this article are from a previous chess game between Chamitoff and ground controllers, played in August this year.

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

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