It’s been hard to keep this secret for so long, but we are finally able to share our good news! After a long year of negotiating and working through concepts, we are proud to announce that we are taking fencing to SPACE! We are now the official training partners of the inaugural fencing program for astronauts. We’re announcing it first, right here on our blog, before it hits the media!
Last year when SpaceX and NASA contacted us with a request to provide fencing training to astronauts, our first reaction was one of bewilderment. That feeling quickly turned to intrigue, which became intimidation, and eventually only joy and excitement. Now we are confident that we can make this happen, and we could not be more thrilled with the innovation that this will bring to fencing and to the pilots and scientists who voyage beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Why fence in space?
Why would NASA and SpaceX be interested in fencing in space? At first, it sounds like an odd pairing, but it makes sense when you work out the reasoning behind it.
Space travel is not what it was many years ago, with explorers going up in the shuttle for limited trips around the planet. Today, astronauts travel via NASA’s partner agencies to the International Space Station, where they spend an average of about 6 months, though many astronauts spend even longer stretches of time. During this time they must keep up their physical fitness, which is done through many with sometimes even longer stretches of time. Obviously this time they must train.
In order to keep their muscles working, both for their time in space and for when they come back to Earth, special exercises have been developed. The International Space Station is currently equipped with a treadmill, a weightlifting machine (the ARED), and a bicycle. These are all well utilized by astronauts, but SpaceX needed more. The goal is to provide not only physical training but also mental engagement and competitiveness. Fencing fits the bill, as it is the perfect mix of the three, and it’s exciting to have people at SpaceX and NASA recognize the value in our sport that we all know about already.
As people spend more time in space, particularly with upcoming missions to Mars and beyond, it’s increasingly important that there are whole body and whole mind exercises. Though there are always maintenance duties and scientific experiments that necessarily have to be done during space travel, there is also downtime. The importance of leisure activities to keep up the spirits and keep astronauts engaged cannot be overstated.
These are the factors that led to SpaceX reaching out about beginning to fence in space.
Zero gravity fencing
Once we understood the why of fencing in space, we had to then figure out the how. This was no small task and it took a great deal of innovation, collaboration, and out of the box thinking in order for us to develop the technology to make this work. The scientists at NASA have been remarkable to work with, and we have learned so much from them.
Based on our recommendation, NASA and SpaceX began by adapting a wireless fencing kit from Leon Paul. This kit allows reels and cables to be eliminated completely, and it interfaced beautifully with existing hardware on the International Space Station. The limited space and risk of entanglement were both factors in this choice. Another important innovation has been the creation of safe to use weapons. The blades are coated in a high tech polymer. This is done for many reasons, such as significantly reducing blade snapping as happens with steel blades, and reducing weight, which is a hugely important factor in space. The grip also locks into place with the glove to keep it from floating away. Fencing masks and protective gear that we use right here are on Earth have shown to be transferable to space!
We’ve got two options right now for astronaut fencers. The first is similar to wheelchair fencing, with two astronauts sitting in their mission control chairs and fencing against each other. The second involves specialized magnetic boots that allow astronaut fencers to slide up and down a uniquely built space piste. The resistance from this particular form of space fencing has shown to be highly beneficial for maintaining muscle tone in the legs and core.
Our next phase of development will be to develop Three Dimensional Flying Fencing (3D2F), allowing astronaut fencers to battle throughout the space station, floating from room to room. This is proving challenging, however there exciting protocols coming into focus that could make this dream a reality. You’ll have to wait for future announcements to hear the details!
Astronaut fencing is the future
Part of the reason that this all works so well is because we have built a foundation of online training in the last year thanks to the pandemic. Zoom fencing lessons are effective, and it turns out they are just as worthwhile for space fencers as they are for those close to home.
So many of the innovations that we think of as hallmarks of modern life resulted from the space program. GPS, freeze-dried foods, CAT scanners, ear thermometers, memory foam, LED lighting, cordless vacuums – the list of everyday space derived tech goes on for miles. One of the hopes that we have for this partnership, beyond it being helpful for astronauts and being super cool, is that we’ll be able to bring those innovations back down to earth for fencers who have two feet on the ground.
Today is the official launch date for Space Fencing. Our big ambition is that this will continue to grow for years to come and that the people who colonize Mars will have fencing as their flagship sport. After all, fencing is the only modern sport that is suited so well to space. At least until future colonizers develop their own sport that is unique for the Red Planet.
In closing, we want to thank you for reading our special 2021 April First Space Edition of the blog. May you live long and prosper, both on the strip and throughout the galaxy!