Wed, 11 Dec 2019

Space odyssey for Wimbledon final coins

News24
13 Jul 2019, 23:42 GMT+10

London - Teenager Marni Johnson will flip the coin at the toss for the Wimbledon women's final on Saturday as high as she can but not as high as it has already been - to space and back.

Both the coins for the women's and the men's finals - gold with tennis racquets on one side and '56' on the other to signify the number of expedition which went to the International Space Station (ISS) - spent 197 days in 2018 in space, giving Wimbledon another piece of sporting history.

Commander Drew Feustel, who has been on three missions, said the idea emanated from a conversation he and his wife Indira had with Philip Brook, chairman of the All England Club, a few years ago.

His father-in-law had suggested back in 2009 that he take tennis racquets - "we are a tennis playing family after all" - but cargo having to be light the idea was dropped.

"What could we take to space which could tie together space and science and the excitement of tennis and the pinnacle of the sport?" said the American astronaut on Saturday.

"'Indi' thought of the coins as they are low mass, low volume and the team here (Wimbledon) came up with this design layout and size and dimension.

"They eventually made it to Houston, then to Russia and Kazakhstan and to the Soyuz craft and then space where they stayed for 197 days."

Feustel, who placed them in two plastic bags as the boxes were too big, occasionally took them out to photograph with Earth as the backdrop.

"I have not given them up yet," he said, staring fondly at them at Wimbledon on Saturday.

"I literally had them in my pocket at the launch and coming back down to earth.

"I didn't want any risk of misplacing them, this is the first time they have been here (Wimbledon)."

It is not the only first for tennis in space for 53-year-old Feustel.

Feustel, who was friends with the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong, came up with the idea of playing tennis on the ISS with the United States Tennis Association.

"It was challenging," he conceded.

"I am not the best tennis player in the first place so that in itself was tricky

"Tennis in space is very different to Earth, the ball does not bounce off the ground, it bounces off all surfaces.

"We had to modify some of the rules. We can't hit it very hard as it just goes bouncing around, no one can get to it.

"In space it is a bit slow motion tennis."

Some of the crew were not best pleased about the idea.

"There were two weekends of tennis," he said. "It was quite an endeavour, we had to clear the galley and take out our dinner table.

"The crew members were not entirely crazy about it."

Feustel did not restrict himself solely to tennis.

"There are very few activities you can do in space, aside from playing cards, staring out the window or watching films," he said.

"However, I played and recorded in space a song 'All Around the World' written by Canadian band Tragically Hip.

"It is a kind of lullaby, the reason I like the song is it has the pace when Earth passes by, slow and melodic and a little hypnotic."

Music is part of Feustel's life back on Earth with an all astronaut band called 'Max Q', which was first formed by his predecessors in 1986.

"Most bands strive for greatness - Max Q strive for mediocrity," he joked.

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