Astronauts Aboard ISS Play Tennis in Zero Gravity To Honor U.S. Open

Expedition 56
Expedition 56 crew members talk via video to family members in June. Four members of the flight crew played the first tennis match in space on Tuesday night. Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images

Astronauts played tennis in zero gravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday night to honor the start of the U.S. Open.

NASA astronaut and commander of Expedition 56 Andrew Feustel attempted to play the first game of tennis in space with European Space Agency cosmonaut Alexander Gerst and NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Serena Auñón-Chancellor. The crewmates played doubles for an event that was live streamed on the social media platforms of the U.S. Open between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Video of the match was the first in history to be projected onto the Unisphere, a large metal globe sculpture in Queens. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) began working with Feustel on this effort in December 2017. They hoped the match would inspire young tennis players to take an interest in space exploration, according to Space.com.

Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor went head-to-head against Feustel and Arnold after attaching a net to either side of a corridor that served as a mock court. The rules were a little different, Feustel said in an interview with Argentinian tennis player Juan Martin del Potro the afternoon before the match. Astronauts were allowed to hit under and over the net and decided that the primary goal was in continuing to get the ball past the net in conditions that lack a gravitational constant. Feustel also previously arranged for some micro-racquets and tennis balls before he arrived aboard the ISS in March. A video of the live stream has not yet been made public.

Del Potro and Feustel also bonded over their mutual ranking of being ranked third in their field. Feustel is the astronaut who takes third place for the largest amount of spacewalks taken, and Del Potro is ranked the third best singles match player in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals. Del Potro is the No. 3 seed at the US Open. Del Potro also won his U.S. Open title the same year Feustel took his first mission to space: 2009. Del Potro will be playing in the U.S. Open. The two players also wished each other luck for their respective matches.

The match itself is a dream come true for Feustel, who previously said, "Tennis is one of my loves," in a NASA briefing, according to Space.com. Thus far, tennis is one of two sports the members of Expedition 56 attempted to play in their free time. Roscomos astronaut Oleg Artemyev of the Russian federal space agency brought a soccer ball to the station that was brought back down to Earth by Anton Shkaplerov. The ball was then used in the first match of the FIFA World Cup.

The U.S. Open will begin August 21 and last until September 9. The first four days of the match will be used to evaluate which players are qualified to compete. Del Potro, who is competing in the match, will be marking his thirteenth year since turning pro in 2005 during the competition.

Expedition 56
Expedition 56 crew members talk via video to family members in June. Four members of the flight crew played the first tennis match in space on Tuesday night. Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images
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