There Will Be Sports in Space

Space Dodgeball, anyone?


Astronaut Alan Shepard was the first space athlete. On the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, at the end of a 4.5-hour moonwalk, Shepard took a lunar sampling device modified with a six-iron club head and hit two golf balls.

According to a 2021 photo analysis, Shepard's first ball went 25 yards. The second set a record for longest golf shot on the moon: 40 yards. These are paltry distances compared to those seen in Earth golf, partly because Shepard's stiff spacesuit allowed him to swing with just one hand. Yet more than 50 years later, his record still stands.

In 2022, at least one organization is taking another swing at space sports. In July, the Space Games Federation announced five winners of a competition that invited people to pitch sports designed to be played in low or zero gravity. The winners were Shooting Star ("each team scores by throwing balls through hoops"), Inno (a Velcro-dependent game in which players "throw or bounce a ball into [the] opposing team's goal"), Space Ball ("get a magnetic ball through a magnetic hoop"), Space Dodgeball ("blending dodgeball with soccer, getting the ball past the goalie using anything but your hands"), and Zero Gordian ("teams of two go up against the clock to tie a series of increasingly complicated knots in Zero Gravity").

The Space Games Federation is also working with former NFL player Ken Harvey to develop Float Ball. The Wall Street Journal reports that the game "combines elements of football, dodgeball and basketball and involves teams moving balls of various colors to a total of four goals at either end of the playing venue—be it a spaceship cabin or custom space arena."

Space sports may not need to rely so heavily on humans. It is easy to imagine remote-controlled vessels racing around in space or rovers racing on Mars, 83 million miles from Earth. Granted, humans would not be able to control these rovers live because of the communications delay between the planets. But the sports gambling opportunities are obvious.

For now, space tourism is confined to low Earth orbit or below; it will likely be a while before the first sports tourist sets foot on the moon. Once that's feasible, a company could take space sports back to the roots that Alan Shepard planted by bankrolling a golf competition on the moon. Even if it featured two billionaires who paid their own way instead of elite Earth golfers, millions of viewers probably would tune in to watch the first Lunar Open.