Did you ever wonder what astronauts do in their free time in space? According to NASA a popular pastime while orbiting Earth from the International Space Station for many is simply looking out the window. In fact, they elaborate: “Astronauts often comment on their fascination and awe as they look at Earth spin beneath them with its multiple shades and textures. Sunsets and sunrises are also very spectacular, occurring every 45 minutes above Earth’s atmosphere.”
But beyond sightseeing, if we may call it so, there’s still a lot that astronauts do in their free time in space. NASA and many other space agencies encourage its astronauts to play games in their spare time. But what games can be played in space? Is any game really the same without gravity and friction? Here’s a list of a few games that astronauts play in space:
1. Board Games:
Board games like scrabble and chess in space have one thing different from the rest: they are played on a velcro board, as any loose object on the station can drift away and cause damage to the many machines in a spacecraft. Secondly, sometimes in space, a chess game is played with an opponent who is not on the same planet as the player! Meaning to say – there are several Space-to-Earth chess matches that are played by astronauts with opponents playing from the Earth. This was started by two pilot-cosmonauts (the correct name for Russian astronauts) Andriyan Grigoryevich Nikolaev and Vitaly Ivanovich Sevastyanov while they were in space. Their opponents from Earth were the head of the Soviet cosmonauts training center, Colonel-General of Aviation Nikolai Petrovich Kamanin, and pilot-cosmonaut Viktor Gorbatko.
In fact, 2020 marks the half-century since this legendary match was played and to celebrate the same a chess match between Space and Earth was by the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics, the Roscosmos State Corporation, and the Chess Federation of Russia. The match featured pilot-cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, Hero of the Russian Federation, and test cosmonaut Ivan Vagner, from the International Space Station. “Representative of the Earth” was Sergey Karjakin – a rapid and blitz world champion and two-time winner of the World Team Championship as a member of the Russian national team. The match was a draw!
America’s favourite pastime, when played on Earth consists of 9 members a side. But in space, it can turn into a one-man show. How? Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut, Satoshi Furukawa shows us how baseball can be played in microgravity, all by yourself!
Similar to baseball, unlike the 11 members team, football and soccer in space is modified to be a 3 player game or even two! As you can see NASA astronaut Steve Swanson in the images below, playing what we can be referred to as Space Soccer!
A lot of the astronauts can be seen somersaulting in the video calls from the International Space Station. Somehow it seems very intuitive for anyone to do when they experience zero-gravity. Beyond somersaults, astronauts also found to be proficient in moves like handstands, flips, and twists. This image is from the predecessor to the International Space Station – Skylab.
On February 6, 1971, astronaut and golfer Alan Shepard turned the Apollo 14 landing site on the Moon into a driving range, as can be seen in the video. He is the first and so far only person to hit a golf ball on the Moon. He did so by hitting two golf balls using a 6-iron golf club head by attaching it to the foldable shaft of a lunar soil sampler. Talk about ingenuity! He declared that the second ball had gone “miles and miles and miles,” an iconic quote that perfectly describes the effect of the Moon’s relatively weak gravity on any object in free motion. On the Moon, with only about a sixth of Earth’s gravity no air resistance, it’s technically possible to hit a golf ball that keeps going for several miles.
NASA psychologists have recognized that relaxation and play are fundamental to the mental health of astronauts in space. Hence, just like every other profession on Earth, astronauts get weekends off in space too. That is when they engage in games. While the idea of playing games in zero gravity is amusing for us non-astrophysicist humans, it does teach us one thing: That space or not, playing games is a great stress-buster and one should make time for them every once in a while to freshen things up!
Do you know of any other astonishing feats performed in space? Share your experience with us in the comment section.
Image credits: NASA and NASA Tumblr
Charu, a feminist and an accidental writer, is yet to master the art of writing about herself. Always curious to learn new stuff, she ends up spending a lot of time unlearning the incorrect lessons. She enjoys all sorts of stories – real, fictional, new, old, hers and would love hearing yours too. Feel free to ping her at [email protected] to share anything that you think is worth sharing.
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