Checkmate: Astronaut Battles Earth in Chess
NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, Expedition 17 flight engineer, smiles for a photo near a chess board in the Harmony node of the International Space Station, July 19, 2008.
Credit: NASA

 

It's the ultimate showdown in space … at chess.

Astronaut Gregory Chamitoff is taking on the world in a galactic chess match from his perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Chamitoff, a NASA flight engineer, began the chess match Sept. 29, playing against the public on Earth, led by the kindergarten through third grade U.S. Chess Championship Team and its chess club teammates from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash. The astronaut is set to talk live to his student adversaries Thursday at 2:05 p.m. ET (1805 GMT).

"I started off playing Mission Control and now I’m playing against the school kids," Chamitoff told SPACE.com this week. "They’re from Bellevue, Washington, and they're kind of leading the charge here on an Earth versus space chess game, which I think is great."

Chamitoff and his adversaries make about one move a day on weekdays, as long as the space station schedule allows. When it's Earth's turn, the students choose up to four possible moves, and then the public votes on which move to send to orbit. Anyone can vote via the Web site: www.uschess.org/nasa2008.

"I think it’s a really good game for kids to play to help them learn how to think in ways that are very important for math and science," Chamitoff said during the on-orbit interview. "It's a good game to stimulate kids’ thinking and it’s been a lot of fun to play with them."

The online voting is being hosted by the U.S. Chess Federation (UCSF).

"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."

Chamitoff launched toward the station aboard NASA’s space shuttle Discovery on May 31. A lifelong chess aficionado, he brought a set up to space with him, and added Velcro to the pieces so they wouldn't float away in weightlessness.

During the four-and-a-half months he's been in Earth orbit during the station’s Expedition 17 mission, Chamitoff has been playing chess games against space station mission control centers around the world. So far, he is undefeated.

As for who will win the ultimate contest between Earth and space, time will tell.

"It's sort of still at the beginning, so it’s hard at this point to tell who’s ahead, but we’ll see," Chamitoff said this week. "Hopefully, we’ll have a conclusion here before it’s time for me to have to leave."

Chamitoff has spent much of his time activating the space station’s new Japanese laboratory Kibo, which arrived with him in June aboard the shuttle Discovery. He will join the station’s new Expedition 18 when two new crew members launch Oct. 12 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Chamitoff is due to return home aboard the STS-126 space shuttle mission in late November.