Astronauts, Cosmonauts, and Chess

by Bill Wall


Astronaut Michael P. Anderson (1959-2003) listed chess as one of his hobbies.  He was killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.  He flew on two Shuttle missions.

Ivan Anikeyev (1933-1992) was a Soviet cosmonaut, but was dismissed from the Soviet space program for disciplinary reasons.  He was a chess player.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930-Aug 25, 2012) was a chess player.  In the book, One Giant Leap: Neil Armstrong’s Stellar American Journey, by Leon Wagener, the author pointed out that Neil Armstrong played chess with his six-year-old son Mark, who was fast becoming a skilled player.  The occasion was just after Armstrong’s return from the moon and after his quarantine period. 

 Cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev (1956- ) flew on 3 space flights and spent 747 days in space.  He was a chess player.

Astronaut Daniel Barry (1953- ) plays chess and Go.  He was the first astronaut to play Go in space.

Astronaut Guion “Guy” Bluford (1942- ), the first African-American astronaut to fly in space, flew on four Shuttle missions (STS-8, 39, 53, and 61A).  He was a chess player and captain of his high school chess team.

Astronaut Mark N. Brown (1951- ) flew on two Shuttle missions (STS-28 and 48).  He listed chess as one of his hobbies.

In June 2008, mission specialist astronaut Dr. Gregory Chamitoff brought a Velcro chessboard ( a magnetic chess set would have interfered with some electronics on board) with him on the space shuttle. In August 2008, he played a chess match against Houston Mission Control and won two games against ground control while playing chess on the International Space Station (ISS). At one point, a rook did not stick to the Velcro board and floated away. It was later found in one of the airflow return filters in the US Laboratory on the ISS.  From September 29, 2008, to October 9, 2008, NASA and the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) hosted the first Earth vs. space match, played by the public and Chamitoff during the STS-124 space shuttle mission. Earth won the match thanks to the chess players at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington, who suggested several moves and the public voted on the moves.

 From May 16 to June 1, 2011, an Earth vs. Space Match was held between earth members and two crew members (Mission Specialist Greg Chamitoff and Pilot Greg Johnson) of STS 134 (last U.S. space launch) on the Endeavour Space Shuttle to the International Space Station. It was sponsored by NASA and the USCF (match director was Hal Bogner). The mission, and the game, lasted 16 days. The public voted on the moves made via Facebook and Twitter.  A chess board flown on the Endeavour Space Shuttle is on display at the U.S. and World Chess Hall of Fame in Saint Louis.  It was signed by the 2010 U.S. Men’s and Women’s Chess Championship.


Astronaut Catherine”Cady” Coleman (1960- ) flew two Shuttle missions (STS-73 and 93),a Soyuz mission, and two International Space Station missions.  She is a chess player.

 Astronaut Michael Collins (1930- ), who flew on Gemini 10 and orbited the moon in the command module while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon, was more interested in chess than airplanes when he was growing up.  Collins once said of Buzz Aldrin, he “would make a champion chess player, always thinks several moves ahead.”

Astronaut Dirk Frimout (1941- ) was the first Belgian in space.  He flew on STS-45 as a payload specialist in 1992.  He listed chess as one of his hobbies.

Astronaut Christer Fuglesang (1957- ), a Swedish physicist, flew on two Shuttle missions (STS116 and 128).  He is a chess player.  While in space, he played a game of chess against the Swedish public in 2009.  He is a member of the Swedish Chess Academy.  In August- September 2009 Fuglesang played chess while in space against readers of a Swedish newspaper (Dagens Nyheter). He lost the game, but when he returned to Earth, he received a Rybka program signed by five world chess champions (Kasparov, Karpov, Kramnik, Spassky, and Anand).

Astronaut James Irwin (1930-1991) was the Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 15.  One of his chess sets, which he signed, appeared on eBay.

 Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) played chess, along with most of the earlier cosmonauts.

Cosmonaut Viktor Gorbatko (1934- ) flew on 3 Soyuz missions (Soyuz 7, 24, and 37).  As a ground controller, he played with the Soyuz 9 cosmonauts.

Astronaut Gregory  H. Johnson (1962- ) flew on two Shuttle missions (STS-123 and 134).  He listed chess as one of his hobbies and played chess with astronaut Greg Chamitoff while aboard the International Space Station.

Cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratiev (1969- ) flew on 3 space missions.  He is a chess player.

In the 1960s, General Nikolai Kamanin (1908-1982) was Chief of Cosmonaut Training and an avid chess player.  He described playing chess with cosmonauts in his diary.

Robert Henry Lawrence (1935-1967) was a test pilot and selected by the Air Force to be an astronaut in the Air Foirce’s Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program.  He was thus the first African-American person to be selected as an astronaut.  However, he was killed on December 8, 1967, when his F-104 Starfighter crashed.   He was a chess player in his earlier years.

Astronaut John M. “Mike” Lounge (1946-2011) flew on three Shuttle missions (STS-26, 35, and 51).  His private interest was chess.

Astronaut William, “Willie” McCool (1961-2003) and the rest of his crew were killed in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up after re-entry.  McCool listed chess as one of his enjoyments and was on his high school chess team in Lubbock, Texas.


Dr. Story Musgrave (1935- ), a physician, flew on six Shuttle missions.   He listed chess as one of his hobbies.

Grigori Nelyubov (1934-1966) was one of the original 20 Soviet cosmonauts, but was dismissed in 1963 for drunk and disorderly conduct.  He was a chess player.

Cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev (1929-2004), along with cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastianov, played chess against the ground crew during their Soyuz 9 spaceflight on June 9, 1970.  He also flew on Vostok 3.

Yuri Onufrienko (1961- ) flew on 5 space missions.  He is a chess player.

Astronaut Donald Pettit (1955- ) has spent 370 days in space in three flights to the International Space Station and 7 total space missions.  He listed one of his hobbies as chess.   He played chess in space,via e-mail.

Mars Rafikov (1933-2000) who was selected as one of the original 20 cosmonauts, but was dismissed from the Soviet space program for disciplinary reasons.  He was a chess player.

 Cosmonaut Vitaly Sevastianov (1935-2010), along with cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, played chess against the ground crew (including cosmonaut Viktor Gorbatko)  during their Soyuz 9 spaceflight on June 9, 1970.  Sevastianov, who also flew on the Soyuz 18 mission, retired from the cosmonaut corps in 1993 and became a member and President of the Duma, representing the Communist Party. He also became President of the Soviet Chess Federation (1977-1986, 1988-1989). In February 1985, Soviet Chess President Sevastianov wrote a letter to FIDE President Campomanes, demanding a three month suspension of the Karpov-Kasparov world championship match, citing concerns about the health of the players. The match was terminated after the 48th game. In 1985 he became an International Arbiter for the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and in 1986 he was awarded honorary member for life of the World Chess Federation.  He led the effort to save the Mir space station (People's Charity Foundation), but was unable to raise enough money ($100 million) or support to keep Mir in space and save the Fritz 6 chess program that was on board and turned on, ready for a game of chess.  The mission, and the chess game, was commemorated in a stamp issued shortly after the mission was completed.  The first chess set in space, used by Sevastianov and Nikolayev, is now on display at the first Russian Chess Museum on Gogol Blvd in Moscow (opened in September 2014).

Sergei Zalyotin (1962- ) flew on Soyuz TM-30 and TM-23.  He is a chess player.

Dr. Wernher von Braun was a chess player.

In 2014, a robot was added to the International Space Station that has the ability to play chess.