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9/26/2008
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Space Station Invites Public To Very Long-Distance Chess Match

Students in kindergarten through third grade will get the first four moves against undefeated astronaut Greg Chamitoff.

One very long-distance chess match ever will begin Monday.

NASA and the U.S. Chess Federation will host the first public chess match between International Space Station astronaut Greg Chamitoff and people on Earth next week. The match, which NASA has billed as Earth vs. space, will include championship chess team players from U.S. grammar schools, with help from the public at large.

Students in kindergarten through third grade on the U.S. Chess Championship Team and their chess club teammates from Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash., will choose up to four moves before the public can vote on their choices. Once the public has voted, the move will be transmitted to orbit and it will show up on the USCF's Web site.

Chamitoff, a space station flight engineer and chess aficionado who took a chess set with him to the International Space Station in June. He fastened Velcro to the pieces so they will not float away. He has been playing long-distance chess through station control centers around the world, and he has managed to remain undefeated.

The public game will take place on weekdays only and Chamitoff will only play when his workload allows it, NASA said. The pace is expected to be slow, with one move per day, but NASA and USCF leaders hope to keep the public interested.

"We hope the excitement and interest this game generates will inspire students to become interested in chess," USCF executive director Bill Hall said in a statement. "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."

Heather Rarick, lead flight director for the current space station mission at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the unique 210-mile chess match provides an opportunity to interest students and the general public. "For the past 10 years, the International Space Station has been an important platform to learn about living in space," she said.

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