Odds and Ends: The first tennis match in space, the final frontier

Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation examining her tennis racquet sometime in the 24th century.

On Earth, tennis has already been to the final frontier – at least in television film history.

However, on 8/21/18 just prior to the start of the 2018 US Open, NASA astronaut Drew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst teamed up for a game of heated pong-like doubles against NASA astronauts Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Ricky Arnold.

On the International Space Station (ISS).

Just imagine the scene:

She could feel it.

It was time.

Auñòn-Chancellor glanced at her Omega Speedmaster, nodding at Arnold as they both gave the DNA sequencer a final glance.  Exchanging knowing looks, they made their way to the exit.  It could wait.

In Columbus Lab, Gerst finished programming the parameters needed to begin his initial analysis of the unknown sample of space dust.  He depressed the button, and the particle shaker came to life.  Glancing at the time, he cracked his neck, then his knuckles, then glided silently out of the lab towards the Destiny Module.

Feustel floated into the darkened Destiny module first, feeling his way to the permanent fixture laptop.  He glanced around as he powered up the stadium court lighting while ensuring adequate power distribution for the rest of the station.

The singularly anxiety-inducing ISS tennis court. Credit: Drew Feustel.

The other three arrived simultaneously.

Instantly the temperature soared, as if Destiny stadium was no longer thermally regulated against sunlight.  Competitive spirits aflame, they grimly distributed the racquets and non-space station destroying balls.  Each team positioned themselves opposite the other, brazenly glaring across the cargo net, strung across the perimeter of the only makeshift multi-billion dollar multi-national tennis court in the history of mankind.

After acknowledging Gerst’s hand signals, Feustel bounced the ball off of the “ceiling” 65 times à la Djokovic – and then served – on a space station already orbiting Earth at 4.76 miles per second.

What could go wrong?

Damage report of the ISS immediately post-doubles match. Credit: TBD, unknown.

The hair-raising match was broadcast live in front of terrestrial audiences (and possibly extraterrestrial if you’re into that sort of thing) onto the famous World’s Fair Unisphere in Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY just adjacent to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the US Open is played annually.  The show included interviews with the astronauts, strategy talk, well-wishes from several tennis pros and a microgravity coaching effort (on the side of Feustel and Gerst) from none other than Juan Martin Del Potro himself and likely went something like: I watched Apollo 13 try not to break anything.

Presumably Feustel and Gerst prevailed, what with DelPo on their side and all.

Take a look at the video below that is likely propelling the next generation of kids into wanting to be a tennis playing astronaut like Drew Feustel:


  • The 9/17/18 announcement that Elon Musk’s Space X has signed its first private passenger to fly around the moon on their Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) provides eventual hope for (arguably) less death defying court time in space.
  • The conspiracy theory that the ISS station is a hoax was brought up while talking to some folks about this post.  It’ll be interesting to see what the theorists come up with on the ISS tennis match also being fake and whatever else might have been seen on the live streamed footage.
  • Clearly Mulder and Scully have their work cut out for them in Season 12.
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