Earth vs. Space: Stevenson Elementary students take on International Space Station in chess

With technology these days, connecting to different parts of the world is as easy as a click of a button. The game of chess, for example, now can match up opponents from two different cultures, competing in a game of logic and skill.

With technology these days, connecting to different parts of the world is as easy as a click of a button. The game of chess, for example, now can match up opponents from two different cultures, competing in a game of logic and skill.

Playing a game of chess against an international player is one thing; playing a game of chess against an astronaut living on the International Space Station is out of this world.

For 10 third-to-fifth-graders, all members of the chess club team from Stevenson Elementary School, the opportunity landed in Bellevue. Fifteen members of the chess team from Stevenson attended Nationals last April in Pittsburgh and walked away with the Kindergarten through Third Grade National Championship title.

Along with the title, the students were chosen to participate in a live-feed chess game against American astronaut Dr. Gregg Chamitoff. The chess match, Earth vs. Space, is an ongoing game available for public participation.

Chamitoff was assigned to Expedition 17 and flew to the International Space Station on STS-124, launching on May 31. He has been in space 150 days and is scheduled to return to earth in this month. During his time aboard the ISS and traveling around the Earth at a speed of 18,000-miles-an-hour, Chamitoff has enjoyed playing chess against various ground control stations and from there, the idea to play Earth arose.

Equipped with a velcro chess board, Chamitoff made the first move of the chess match between Earth vs. Space. The velcro keeps the chess pieces from flying away in the zero-gravity atmosphere, he explained to the students. After each turn, the Stevenson chess team analyzes Chamitoff’s move and then narrows it down to four options for Earth’s next play. The public is then welcome to visit the United States Chess Federation Website to vote on the best move. Daily blogs by Match Director Hal Bogner break down each move. To witness up-to-date plays, visit

The winning move chosen by Earth is then relayed to the ISS by Mission Control at NASA. The game continues to move at a steady pace of one move, per player, every couple of days.

Recently, the National Chess Champions had the opportunity to meet their opponent face to face via live-feed video at the Bellevue Community College Planetarium. Jennie Commayor, a chemistry instructor at BCC was joined by Chess Club Coach Harlan Lee to introduce the unique event.

“Chess is a mental game and makes you think three, four, even five moves ahead of your opponent,” explained Mohan Vanmane, the director of the Chess Club. “Chess adds healthy competition and gives the students the opportunity to meet friends from other schools and to travel.”

His son, Amith, was among the other chess club members who had the opportunity to sit face to face with an American astronaut.

Armed and ready with questions, the chess team members eagerly awaited for a clear video picture of Chamitoff, floating in space more than 210 miles above Earth. Stevenson chess team coach David Hendricks narrated the conversation between the two sides. Following brief introductions, Chamitoff greeted the students and explained why he enjoyed playing the game of chess.

“I think chess is a great game for stimulating minds for analytical thinking which is so important in all aspects of life especially math, science and engineering which are all the things that make the space station possible,” he explained.

With a slight delay in the communication feed, the students were able to ask their opponent questions.

When asked what blast off felt like by student Grace Sun, Chamitoff responded enthusiastically, saying, “It was a blast!”

Patrick Wang, a fourth grader, wanted to know how Chamitoff convinced his mom to let him become an astronaut?

Chuckling, Chamitoff replied, “My parents were very supportive of everything I wanted to do. My dad always said, what the human mind can believe it can achieve. My mom was nervous during the launch, but now that I’m up here she’s very excited and I call her Astro-Mom.”

Chamitoff went on to answer all the students’ questions, explaining everything from how he gets exercise in space to what food he is craving when he lands back on Earth. The students sat attentively as he described his view from outer space.

You can see everything on the Earth from here, he said, and when we fly over the city of Bellevue I can see all the way to the bottom of California and into Mexico and all the way up to Alaska.

As the conversation wrapped up between the two chess opponents, Chamitoff wished the students and fellow Earthlings good luck on their next chess move. He then smiled, gave a thumbs up, and showed off his zero-gravity somersault abilities. One of his many talents being put to use aboard the ISS.