In one of the grandest chess challenges ever attempted, a Canadian space station astronaut will contemplate his moves from orbit whilst students on Earth will make theirs from the ground. Greg Chamitoff, an International Space Station (ISS) flight engineer, has been stationed on the orbital outpost for four months and he is filling his spare time following his favorite intellectual hobby. The chess enthusiast has been playing the board game with space centres around the world, and is so far undefeated. Let’s see if he can beat some of the brightest strategists from kindergarten through to a third grade US Chess Championship Team…
Many of you may be thinking: hasn’t a space station engineer got better things to do with his time rather than playing chess? And you would be right, Chamitoff has a busy schedule to maintain and only has a limited amount of recreational time on his hands. This is why only one move per day will be allowed. This slow game may even get longer should his orbital duties eat into his spare time. However, this is a great chance for the public to experience a rather unique chess match transmitted over an altitude of 210 miles.
“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. After all, this match will not only boost interest for space exploration in the classroom, it might create many chess enthusiasts (after all, it’s not every day you get to challenge an astronaut to a board game).
US Chess Federation (USCF) Executive Director Bill Hall shares this sentiment. “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,” he said.
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The match is focused on school children in kindergarten through to the third grade US Chess Championship Team, including chess club members from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington. The students choose four possible moves in reply to Chamitoff’s and then the public votes on the best move to be transmitted to orbit.
Chamitoff carried his custom-made chess set into orbit when he few on the STS-124 shuttle mission which delivered components for the Japanese Experiment Module, “Kibo”. Each chess piece is attached to the board with Velcro to prevent the pawns and knights from floating around the station’s Harmony module where the match is taking place. In the ISS video on the USCF website (the organization which set up the event), Chamitoff said after ripping his knight from g1, “It’s your move. Good luck. I’m not gonna make it easy for you. And thanks for playing!”