Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Luna City Olympic Organizing Committee

Just to prove this blog won't always be crusty and full of political angst... how cool is this discussion of space sports? Now that Richard Branson is preparing to open the first commercial spaceline and Peter Diamandis' Zero-Gravity Corporation is flying private customers, the idea of of sports in microgravity or lunar gravity is edging out of the realm of science fiction and into reality. Because Zero-G's microgravity parabolas last only 25 to 30 seconds each, it's hard to see how the Paraball game IPX Entertainment is developing could be anything other than an exhibition sport, but eventually there will be hotels in space (at least, there will be if Robert Bigelow has anything to say about it), and as surely as night follows day, there will be sports.

Probably the "killer app" of space sports will be a totally new game that we've never heard of, but it's fun to speculate about how existing games would work in space. Some sports -- soccer, lacrosse, team handball (or water polo without the water) -- seem like they'd translate pretty easily to 3-D, zero-g versions; others -- basketball, volleyball, tennis -- seem like they'd be pretty hard to shake loose from gravity: How do you dribble, spike, or serve a ball when there's no up-and-down? And individual sports, especially so-called extreme sports, are surprisingly tied to gravity: It's no coincidence that NBC's X-Game competitor is called the Gravity Games.

But what about space environments where there is gravity? The most famous moment in space sports history (admittedly practically the only moment in space sports history!) is Alan Shepard's lunar golf shot. But lunar golf as a sport rather than a stunt will probably be played indoors. On the Moon, low gravity may be a plus for games, but the lack of air outside is probably a minus: In golf, no slices or hooks... but no deliberate shot shaping, either. In baseball, no curveballs, sliders, knuckleballs, or "rising" fastballs, and no waiting to see if that deep fly ball hooks foul, either. Where's the fun in that? Of course, all these quibbles would be answered by moving the games indoors: Standard air pressure and lunar gravity (1/6g) would give you crazy hooks and slices, and perhaps fastballs that really rise! Of course, given how far the balls would travel, the venues would have to be huge. Try to imagine how big a sheet of ice you'd need for lunar curling!

One thing you could do on the Moon is... fly! Immortalized in Robert Heinlein's story "The Menace from Earth" (in the collection of the same name) and described in Neil P. Ruzic's 1970 speculative nonfiction work Where the Winds Sleep (unfortunately out of print), the coolest imaginable lunar sport is to strap on a pair of wings and fly like a bird, taking advantage of Earth-born strength, Earth-standard pressure, and lunar weight.

So what do you think? Looking forward to the Luna City Olympics? I know I am.

1 comment:

ATalbot said...

Hmm, that IPX Entertainment sport seems very mysterious. I've bookmarked the site and intend to check back January 1st, 2006.