Ground Control: A Journey Through Chess and Space explores space-themed chess sets and significant chess events from the year 1969, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Highlights of this exhibition include Star Wars, Star Trek, and other pop-culture-themed chess sets from the World Chess Hall of Fame’s permanent collection as well as a signed chessboard that was flown on the final mission of the Endeavor Space Shuttle.
Organized in connection with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 16,1969, Ground Control: A Journey Through Chess and Space showcases out-of-this-world artifacts from the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) and lenders Duncan Pohl and Allan Savage. Ground Control also examines important chess events from 1969 including Boris Spassky’s victory in the World Chess Championship, Nona Gaprindashvili’s win in the Women’s World Chess Championship, important tournaments in the United States and around the world as well as the births of future world chess champion Viswanathan Anand and trailblazer and future women’s world chess champion Susan Polgar.
Just as the 1972 world chess championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky is often seen as an embodiment of the Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, in the space race, the two nations competed for superiority in the realms of science and technology. They sought to achieve important firsts in space exploration, such as putting the first satellite into orbit, the first manned space flights, and putting a person on the moon. Some of the artifacts in Ground Control testify to the excitement of these years—a chessboard featuring a Soviet rocket blasting into space and artifacts related to a game between the cosmonauts aboard Soyuz 9 (Andrian Nikolayev and Vitaly Sevastyanov) and cosmonaut Viktor Gorbatko and general Nikolai P. Kamanin, who were on Earth.
Space also has a special connection to the history of the WCHOF. One highlight of our collection, acquired after the museum moved from Miami to Saint Louis, is the chessboard flown as part of the official flight kit on the last mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour (May 16-June 1, 2011). Competitors in the 2010 U.S. and U.S. Women’s Chess Championships, which were held at the Saint Louis Chess Club, signed the board. Also, NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff was present at the opening festivities of the World Chess Hall of Fame, which coincided with the launch of the Boy Scouts of America Chess Merit Badge (September 11, 2011). Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield led the effort to establish the chess merit badge. Scouts reenacted a recent game between space and Earth on a life-sized board before they received the very first badges.
Chess is one of the world’s oldest games, but it is often featured in visions of the future and the far reaches of the galaxy. Mr. Spock played Tri-Dimensional Chess against Captain James Kirk in Star Trek, which aired from September 8, 1966, through June 3, 1969. The game continued to appear in later Star Trek franchises. The WCHOF’s collection, which numbers over 1000, includes sets related to the game’s top players as well as ones with pop culture themes taken from television shows and movies set in space, including The Jetsons, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Many of these are included in Ground Control. We hope that you will enjoy this exhibition, whether you’re a space enthusiast, a pop culture junkie, or a fan of history.
- Shannon Bailey and Emily Allred
More Information Coming Soon!
11/7/2019: St. Louis Public Radio — On Chess: A Journey Through Chess and Space
11/6/2019: FOX 2 Now — Ground Control: A Journey Through Chess & Space
11/1/2019: St. Louis Post-Dispatch — Best Bets: John Williams, 'Rocky Horror,' Día de los Muertos, Melanie Martinez, 'Muny Magic'
10/31/2019: St. Louis Post-Dispatch — Ground Control: A Journey Through Chess and Space