For the first time in history, a tennis match was played in space, with four astronauts participating in a doubles game aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Participating in the historic match were NASA astronaut and space station commander Drew Feustel, NASA astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Ricky Arnold, and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst.
The tennis match was organized by NASA and the U.S. Open tennis organization as part of the kickoff for the U.S. Open tournament, which will be played this week in New York. The U.S. Open tennis organization also showed the match live on the Unisphere, the globe-like sculpture outside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.
Astronaut Receives Tips From Pro Tennis Player
Taking the match seriously, Feustel, a geophysicist, received a few tips from professional tennis player Juan Martín del Potro. On his Twitter account, Del Potro said he never thought that he would coach someone who will play a tennis match in space.
The lack of gravity on the space station forced the astronauts to play on tiny tennis rackets that they used to hit the soft and squishy tennis ball over the make-shift net. According to Gordon Smith, executive director of the United States Tennis Association, the equipment used by the astronauts were designed to be safe as they don't want to break a window or anything.
Earlier, Feustel predicted that the tennis match in space will be played like the old video game Pong. Feustel's prediction came true as the protagonists used the volley more often, rather than wait for the ball to bounce. Also, the astronauts found themselves floating around and struggling to stay upright to hit the ball to the right direction. After a heated battle, Feustel and Arnold emerged victorious in the historic first tennis showdown in space.
Future Tennis Matches In Space Possible
After the match, Feustel emphasized that playing tennis in space is a tough task, saying he felt a bit winded after playing in microgravity. Also, Feustel advised to kids who witnessed the first tennis match in space to stay fit, remain focused on their dreams and goals, and shoot for the stars.
Smith, for his part, expressed elation over the co-existence of space and tennis, calling it a cool thing and innovative. Smith is hopeful that many tennis matches will be played in space in the future, saying a regular competition aboard the ISS could become a regular thing. Smith added that it's a cool idea to have astronauts vying to become the best tennis player in space.