Space Golf and Other Zero-G Sports on the ISS

Humans and sports go hand-in-hand; it was only a matter of time before sports pushed into space. Whether astronauts are practicing their cosmic golf swing, throwing boomerangs (for science of course!), hurling footballs or creating their own unique zero g activity, we will see some new and inventive space sports in the future…

Launched on board Apollo 14 in February 9th, 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard had brought a little extra weight with him. A golf club and golf balls. He wanted to be the first to play golf on the dusty surface of the Moon. His dream became a reality, doing a one-handed drive, blasting the ball over 200 yards during one of his Moon walks. Not bad considering how restrictive his space suit must have been (although the 1/6 Earth gravity will have helped the ball along a little). Shepard held the extra-terrestrial golf drive record for 35 years until cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin shattered the record with a million-mile hit from the International Space Station in 2006 (it was actually a miss-hit, but mission scientists think it orbited the Earth for 2-3 days before falling into the ultimate hazard… the Earth’s atmosphere).

In fact, the International Space Station astronauts have tried out a variety of sports. An average ISS astronaut’s day consists of six and a half hours of work, two hours for exercise and about eight and a half hours for sleep. Naturally, as we do on Earth, the orbiting men and women have some time to fill with personal activities, including sport. A lot of the time, the odd dabble with a boomerang and a session on the treadmill has a scientific merit, but some of the sporting activities were done simply for fun. In the case of Tyurin, sport may also be a marketing stunt (the ISS golf driving range was set up by Canadian golf club manufacturer Element 21) – but I’m sure he had a special sense of satisfaction teeing off the high altitude location.

Zero-G offers many options for new sports too. In a televised interview last week, NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman (who is currently residing on the station as the Expedition 17 flight engineer) admitted to finding the mundane task of filling up large water bags rather enjoyable:

We started tossing them kind of like a medicine ball, and we realized that you could toss and catch and then go for a ride on this big thing as it takes you away. So there’s all kinds of possibilities, and if there’s any good ideas out there, let me know. We’ll try it.” – Reisman.

Whilst this may not constitute a “sport”, it could be a fun game. When the Expedition 16 and 17 crews overlapped, there were six crewmembers to participate in the orbital fun. Record breaker Peggy Whitson commented on a relay race that the crew had through three of the station modules. “We raced from one end of a module, relayed with the person waiting at the other end three modules away, and then sprinted back and sent a third person,” Whitson said. “So it was pretty fun.” Apparently her team (including Reisman) won.

Although the ISS astronauts may not have many sporting options at their disposal, mission control makes sure they don’t get bored. They have a treadmill and stationary bike, and they’ve played weightless basketball, Frisbee and thrown boomerangs. Plus the odd round of golf it seems. Even throwing away the garbage seems like a superb way to pass the time. Have a look at this NASA video of the station crew having way too much fun in orbit (I do admit, I am very jealous!).

Artist impression - roomy spacecraft could offer lots of space for playtime (Space Island Group)

All these activities are going on in the space station not exactly built for sporting activities. With the advent of space tourism, it’s not hard to envisage the development of space sports, perhaps in orbital space hotels with large volumes of space available for sports activities. One such sport could be the possibility of zero-G dodgeball (pictured). This was already attempted on board Boeing 727-200 jets operated by the Zero Gravity Corp. (Las Vegas). Although periods of weightlessness would have been short, it must have been fun.

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10 Replies to “Space Golf and Other Zero-G Sports on the ISS”

  1. They could try zero g billiards. A 3D way of setting up enlarged “pockets” inside of a large enough space at different levels, use short cues to line up shots, and bank shots not possible here on Earth.

    I don’t suppose you could use “English” on pool shots in space, though. Wouldn’t you need gravity for that?

  2. This is great seeing our tax dollars at work. When are we getting some sensible leadership for this ISS fiasco? Hmm . . . maybe i’m begin too critical. After all FEMA er . . . NASA is a government agency. They don’t have to make sense.

  3. NASA sucks golf balls.

    Between this nonsense and the study of whipped cream in zero gravity, why haven’t we abolished NASA’s manned space program?

    NASA should be the DMV of space. Issue licenses, make regulations and get the frak out of the way.

  4. To Wheel of Fire, You are right. However, make no mistake, every government agency operates like NASA. They all have a bottomless pit of our tax dollars to .to be dispensed, all too often, whimsically. Unfortunately, nothing will change in Washington. So, simply regard all this government waste as a premium price for the privilege of living in this country. In this context, the gut-wrenhing stupidity displayed by the current administration is more tolerable.

  5. To Hawkus, I have no quarrel with relaxation. It is vital on the ISS. My question is, “what happened to reading or playing chess or watching TV sitcoms?” This NASA golf thing is a form of mental masturbation. What are these NASA morons thinking?

  6. Chuck and Wheel, get over yourself.

    If any one of us was stuck in the ISS for any period of time, we’d all invent a zero-g pastime to relax. Do you honestly expect the ISS crew to have no fun while they’re up there?

  7. To alphonso richardson, Yeah! Good thinking! Hmm . . . hold it a minute . . . let’s not joke too loudly. Your volley ball comment may trigger another multi-million dollar NASA research fiasco.

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