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Tennis in space, anyone? Astronauts have a ball during an historical race

Last night (Aug. 21, 2018), the first tennis match in the space was projected on to the Unisphere, which stood as the centerpiece for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in Queens, New York.

(Chelsea Gohd/Space.com)

NEW YORK — Last night (Aug. 21), astronauts made history by playing the first tennis match in space aboard the International Space Station. The contest was projected live onto a huge globe in Queens, New York, where a crowd of space and tennis enthusiasts gathered to watch the historic event.

NASA astronaut and space station commander Drew Feustel played fellow NASA astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Ricky Arnold, together with the European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Barley in the microgravity doubles.

During the heated match — the full video of the event can be seen here — the astronauts struggled with the limitations of a microgravity environment (while being careful not to cause any damage to the drive). But Feustel was well prepared: He is a life long tennis fan, and he had a number of pre-match tips of professional tennis player Juan M. del Potro, who he described on Twitter.

That was a fun chat with @delpotrojuan Thanks for the tips, I need all the help I can get for tonight’s game. See if you can from 8:30 to 9:30 and at USOpen FB, Twitter, and YouTube. First tennis match in the Space! #TminusNetGeneration https://t.co/B3Gnd9MtoQ

— A. J. (Drew) Feustel (@Astro_Feustel) August 21, 2018

The astronauts use small rackets and a tennis ball to play — equipment is designed for safe use on board the space station. “You really don’t want to break a window or something,” Gordon Smith, executive director of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), told Space.com. The event took place at the Unisphere, a huge globe in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens that was once the center of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. The cosmic tennis match was projected on the Unisphere.

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  • 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair

Feustel predicted that the game might look a bit on the classic video game “Pong” and it turned out that he was right. Because of the lack of gravity, the ball does not bounce, and once it was hit, and went straight on to hit again.

But, if the astronauts are hitting the tennis ball in microgravity over a makeshift net she herself drifted around. So they were faced with the added struggle of trying to remain upright to get the ball to the correct location.

Feustel and Arnold, who Feustel jokingly referred to as the “assistant of the commander” (a reference to the tv show “The Office”), ended up securing the victory in the alien tennis match.

But, despite winning the match, Feustel made clear that the playing of tennis in the space is not an easy task. “I feel a little out of breath,” Feustel said afterward. “It was a tough game and play in microgravity is difficult”.

LIVE from the Unisphere: @usopen in Space with @nasa’s @astro_feustel 🚀 #TMinusNetGeneration https://t.co/v7yYP1SUge

— The US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 22, 2018

Smith, that the projected match before an enthusiastic audience of space and tennis enthusiasts, is happy to see space and tennis come together: “What is cooler?” he said. He also told Space.com that the USTA is “about innovation, and I think tennis in the space is innovative.”

As for the future of the space tennis, Smith said he is hopeful about the extra alien races. “I think we’re going to have to have a regular competition in the space,” he told Space.com. “I think the astronauts are going to compete for who is the best tennis player in the space.”

Original article on Space.com.

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