Astronomy, Astronauts, and Chess
by Bill Wall
In 1854, Paul Morphy (1837-1884) took an interest in astronomy. While at Spring Hill College, he was a member of the Philomatic Society (an association of persons who love sciences) and delivered an astronomy lecture on the discovery of Neptune, which occurred in 1846 by astronomer Johann Galle (1812-1910) in Berlin.
The Canadian-American astronomer Simon Newcomb (1835-1909) was an expert chess player and fond of the game. In the 1860s, he was professor of mathematics and astronomer at the United States Naval Observatory. In 1896, the international consensus was that all ephemerides should be based on Newcomb’s calculations – Newcomb’s Tables of the Sun. A further conference as late as 1950 confirmed Newcomb’s constants as the international standard.
In 1866, Viktor Knorre (1840-1919) defeated Johannes Zukertort in a match in Breslau. The Knorre variation in the Two Knights Defense and the Ruy Lopez is named after him. He later became Professor of Astronomy in Berlin, Director of the Berlin Observatory, and discovered four minor planets. NASA named a minor planet (14339 Knorre) after him. He published papers on an improved equatorial telescope mount, referred to as the “Knorre & Heele” mount.
In the early 1900s, future astrophysicist Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) was a member of the Cambridge University Chess Club. He is famous for his work regarding the theory of relativity and the natural limit to the luminosity of stars.
In 1905, famous astronomer Eugene M. Antoniadi (1870-1944) tied for 1st place in a Paris tournament. In 1907, he tied for first place (6 wins, 1 loss) with Frank Marshall, ahead of Tartakower He took 3rd place in a Paris tournament in 1917. Antoniadi was famous for his maps of Mars, proving that the “canals” of Mars were optical illusions. At the time, he drew the best pre-Spage Age maps of Mercury and Mars.
In the 1930s, future English astronomer and astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) was an avid chess player who attended Cambridge, was the secretary of the Cambridge chess club, and played chess against Oxford. He later took an interest in the workings of early chess-playing computers. Hoyle is most famous for coining the word “Big Bang" theory (which he rejected for the “steady state” theory).
In the 1950s, Carl Sagan made time for extracurricular activities like basketball and chess, and played chess in high school. (source: Carl Sagan by Ellen Butts and Joyce Schwarz, 2001, p. 25)
In the 1950s, Bobby Fischer gave an interview and professed an interest in astronomy.
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.
On June 9, 1970, cosmonauts Vitaly Sevastyanov (1935-2010) and Andrian Nikolayev played chess against their ground control while on board Soyuz 9. It was the first time chess was played in space. The mission, and the chess game, was commemorated in a stamp issued shortly after the mission was completed.
In 1977, Sevastyanov became president of the Soviet Union Chess Federation. He served as its president from 1977 to 1986 and from 1988 to 1989.
In the 1980s, Vishy Anand read Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos, followed the televised version, and started taking cosmology seriously.
In 1986, the Mir Soviet space station became operational. It stayed operational until 2001. In April 1999, one of the cosmonauts brought along the Fritz 6 chess software (and a Siemens Scenic notebook computer) so that cosmonauts could play chess against Fritz while in space. The chess program was requested by cosmonaut Sergei Andeyev, a chess player, who was aboard Mir. He spent 747 days in space through three tours of duty aboard Mir, and wanted to play chess. Cosmonauts were discouraged to play chess against each other while on board, just in case a loss would affect the cosmonaut and take it out on the other cosmonaut.
In 1992, Professor Arpad Elo died at the age of 89. He was a physicist and astronomer who devised the international chess rating list.
In May 2004, Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, sponsored and provided the location of the National All-Girls Chess Championship, which had 200 participants.
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.
In August- September 2009, Swedish astronaut Christer 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).
In 2010, during the world chess championship in Sofia between Anand and Topalov, Dr. Christian Sasse from Vancouver gave Vishy Anand and Dr. John Nunn time on his remote telescopes, part of the Global Rent-Scope (GRAS) network. These telescopes, located in Australia, Spain, and New Mexico, can be controlled via the Internet and the images can be taken, downloaded and processed by the user (about $20 per image).
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 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.
In December 2011, at the London Chess Classic, during a free day, former world chess champion Vishy Anand and Dr. John Nunn, British Grandmaster, were involved in a lecture on astronomy and the use of robotic telescopes.
In March 2015, Chess in the Schools, a New York City-based educational nonprofit organization, raised more than $1 million and honored world-renowned astrophysicist and cosmologist, Neil deGrass Tyson, with the inaugural Lewis B. and Louise Hirschfeld Cullman Award for Excellence.
In April 2015, Vishy Anand had a minor planet (4538) named after him. It is called Vishyanand. The minor planet was discovered in October 1988 (but not named by its discoverer)and lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Michael Rudenki, committee member of the IAU Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, said that his two passions in life were astronomy and chess. So he thought it was appropriate to name the minor planet in honor of the former world champion. Anand has taken some good pictures of the Lagood Nebula and the Jellyfish nebula with a telescope in Australia that he remotely hooked up to.
Anand also is an astronomy buff and interested in astrophotography. Anand joins Alexander Alekhine (1909 Alekhin), Mikhail Chigorin (7268 Chigorin), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (5570 Kisan), Anatoly Karpov (90174 Karpov), Viktor Knoore (14339 Knorre), and Vasily Smyslov (5413 Smyslov) and who have minor planets named after them. There is also 17612 Whiteknight, named after a chess piece, and 26661 Kempelen, named after the maker of the Turk, a chess automaton.. See http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/lists/MPNames.html
Anand tried to locate the minor planet when he accessed iTelescope, a facility that lets one hire and remotely control a giant telescope for an hour or two. However, the object was too faint.
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.
Astronomers who play(ed) chess:
Sverre Aarath (1934- ), Biddell Airy (1801-1892), Eugene Antonaidi (1870-1944), Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), Arpad Elo (1903-1992), Wulff-Dieter Heintz (1930-2006), Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), Viktor Knorre (1840-1919), Patrick Moore (1923-2012), Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), Richard Proctor (1837-1888), Victor Regener (1913-2006), Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Heinrich Schumacher (1780-1850)
Chess players who have/had an interest in astronomy:
Viswanathan Anand, Hans Moritz Bruehl , Paul Morphy, Dr. John Nunn, David Levy, Wolfgang Pauly (1876-1934 – chess problemist and credited with the discovery of a comet), Fred Reinfeld (wrote a book on astronomy)
In astronomy, there is also the Chemical Herschel Survey of Star Forming Regions, known as CHESS.