Tennis on the International Space Station is as weird as it sounds

Well, it was hardly reminiscent of a brutal Federer/Nadal clash, and didn’t even come close to what you might witness down your local tennis club on a Sunday afternoon, but it was, at least, one of the weirdest tennis matches you’re ever likely to see.

Tennis in space. It’s never been tried before, and after watching how this week’s game went on the International Space Station (ISS), you’ll probably be thinking that maybe it should’ve stayed that way.

The event, organized by NASA and the U.S. Tennis Association, was designed to show how astronauts spend their leisure time and stay fit during their multi-month stays on the ISS, as well as to inspire young tennis players to take a greater interest in space exploration.

The unusual event was projected live onto a giant globe at Flushing Meadows, New York, where the annual U.S. Open tennis tourney takes place. A crowd of space and tennis fans, both young and old, turned up to enjoy the historic happening.

But before the first ball was hit, NASA astronaut and current ISS commander Drew Feustel talked about some of their preparations for the game. For example, they’d decided to use a soft, squishy tennis ball so that any erratic smashes by the players wouldn’t damage an important part of the space station’s machinery, rendering the entire satellite useless, or worse, sending it barreling off into oblivion. All because of a game of tennis.

As for the tennis racket, it looked about a quarter of the regular size. Either that or Feustel is a really massive guy with huge hands. We’re guessing it’s the former.

The ISS commander noted that the main difference when it comes to playing tennis in space is the lack of gravity. This meant the ball would maintain a straight trajectory after being struck, and therefore never dip as it would in a regular tennis match back on terra firma. Getting your feet in position before hitting the ball — an important part of Earth-based tennis — would also be pretty much impossible for the space athletes.


Using a net comprising a pole with some yellow stuff hanging off it, the world’s first tennis match in space was finally ready to begin. On the “court” with the commander were fellow crew members Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Ricky Arnold, and Alexander Gerst.

As you can see from the video above, the speed of play is rather on the slow side, making it look as if the picture is stuck in slo-mo. A dramatic soundtrack attempts to inject some much-needed tension into the sluggish rallies, while it soon becomes clear that this is more “badminton with a ball” than a proper game of tennis.

By far the most entertaining part is when one of the players is shown drifting nonchalantly upside down — a feat never even achieved by Boris Becker during his famously acrobatic on-court shenanigans way back when.

In his post-match analysis, Feustel commented that it’d been a “difficult” game and that “playing in microgravity is tough.”

As the livestream came to an end, the space commander closed with an upbeat message for any kids out there who were still wondering about what it was they’d just witnessed. “Stay fit and stay focused on your dreams and your goals, and shoot for the stars,” he said.

Emerging Tech

Happy birthday, Hubble! Telescope celebrates with image of Southern Crab Nebula

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit, where it has remained for nearly three decades collecting information about deep space. To celebrate its birthday, Hubble imaged the beautiful Southern Crab Nebula.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.

If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Emerging Tech

Star gives off superflare equal to 80 billion megatonnes of TNT. That’s a lot

A tiny star the size of Jupiter has been observed giving off a massive superflare 10 times more powerful than any flare from our Sun. The findings are raising questions about how much energy small stars can hold.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?