Astronaut vs. Earth: The World’s Most Extreme Chess Match Begins

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.

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!

Get over to the USCF website to make your vote on Planet Earth’s next move

Sources: USCF, NASA, Daily Mail

13 Replies to “Astronaut vs. Earth: The World’s Most Extreme Chess Match Begins”

  1. Kindergarten through third grade? Whats next, trained monkeys? It looks like he doesn’t Want to lose. How about not picking on the kids and get a real opponent. Aren’t there any Russians on board?

  2. First, don’t underestimate the chess capabilities of a 3rd grader on a championship team – I have been involved in chess activities for elementary school children and some of them are amazingly good at chess, despite their youth. Plus the public vote of the moves gets any interested experts involved in any case.

    Second, perhaps the goal is to inspire the youngest school-age children – usually the high school kids get all the attention. (Middle school’s still out of luck.)

    Third, maybe you are right and he just doesn’t want to lose. After all, the article says he’s an enthusiast, not a ranked expert. I can’t find any reference to his skill level other than that he is undefeated against unnamed ground controllers this year.

  3. Why bother answering Dom, if he isn’t going to read the article thoroughly? the article… your answers are there. A trained monkey could figure it out!

  4. I have to agree with Scott with regards to how good some kids are. I’m sure they didn’t just pick a random third grade class.

  5. Velcro, why not play with a magnetic board?

    (I think it’d be easier to move the pieces with magnetic board than with velcro when floating around)

  6. I’ve taught chess to 1st thru 6th graders for years and have never lost a game, despite being only an average or slightly above tournament player. I doubt that any of the children could beat an accomplished player. However, the rules in which the students select four possible moves that are then voted on by others is bizzarre and makes it difficulte to predict results.

  7. If he’s aboard a spaceship, he should be playing that computer with the unblinking red eye.

    Thank you for an enjoyable game.

  8. Some people have forgot their brain before to post…at least if they’ve one (not sure).

    Anyway he use his SPARE TIME to keep contact with many people on Earth, it’s the better advert for an orbital space program.

  9. I play on-line chess regularly and sometimes there are six or seven members of the ISS on-line playing chess! Seems that it is their number one passtime. Their rating ranges from a low 1400+ to over 1800.

  10. i’m not really into chess but i rekcon it would be kool to go into outer space and play chess with some of my friends

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