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Shoot for the Moon: Could lunar football kick off by 2035?

20 July 2023

Scientists and engineers predict the first competitive football match on the Moon could become a reality by 2035, offering a glimpse into the futuristic Lunar Football Rule Book and the technology required for this out-of-this-world sporting event.

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

Football may be the most popular game on the planet, but as the world’s biggest international football tournament kicks off for 2023, engineering and technology experts predict the first match on the Moon could take place there as early as 2035, based on developments from the ‘big three’ space-faring nations.

That’s according to a panel of scientists and engineers brought together by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), who have outlined the innovations required for humans to have a competitive kickabout on the Moon’s surface once a lunar base has been established.

The panel of STEM experts has also created the first-ever Lunar Football Rule Book, to adapt the beautiful game to the vastly different conditions players can expect, including harsh, dusty terrain, zero oxygen and potentially fatal risks of collision – making lunar football a strictly non-contact sport.

The IET’s predictions and rule development of Lunar Football aim to excite and educate children on what careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths can look like and inspire a generation of budding engineers and technologists.   

With just one-sixth of the gravity of Earth and no wind or air resistance, the ball will behave completely differently. A kicked ball travels at the same speed as on Earth – at approximately 70mph – but will travel roughly six times further, meaning a return to the long-ball game of the 1980s rather than Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka.

Instead of a standard kit, players will require a flexible airtight suit which is slightly slimmed down, with in-built padding for knees and elbows. Each suit will require a cooling and heating system adjustable to the temperature of the lunar climate, with flannel in the seat to absorb sweat.

Helmets must be designed to enable communication between players and coaches, with a 180 to 270-degree view, as well as a Heads-Up Display in the visor to deliver referee decisions, player suit status and their positions and red and yellow cards.

To ensure safety and avoid collisions, Lunar Football will be a five-a-side, strictly no-contact sport, with possession of the ball gained solely through interceptions. Slide tackles or headers are not permitted to avoid damage to players’ suits and helmets.

The ball will be 1.5x the size of a terrestrial football marked in black and white for visibility of the ball, given it will be extremely bright on the Moon. Critically, the ball must have a core of Next-Gen Aerogel which is a spongy structure to give the ball compressibility to allow bouncing while not containing any air.

The field of play must be prepared using laser sintering – where a laser is fired at the surface to melt particles, so they stick together in a single solid layer – to achieve an even and consistent pitch. 

This will ensure that the field of play is durable, as failing to do so would cause the pitch to erode during the match, endangering players as a result. With space at a premium, the referee will be stationed at basecamp, but will still have a visible presence on the pitch as a hologram.

To ensure players avoid over-exhaustion on the Moon, the pitch will be 32m long and 25m wide – an area eight times smaller than that of a terrestrial football pitch. The match itself will be played in four 10-minute quarters with 20-minute breaks between each quarter for refuelling and equipment repair.

The goals will expand to be 1.5x wider (36ft) and 1.2 x higher (9.6ft) to account for the larger, size eight ball, and the fact that jumping is easier on the Moon.

With the first football match predicted to be just a generation away in 2035 and building on an exciting summer of international football, the IET is calling on children across the UK aged four to 13 to design the first official Moon Utd football kit in time for the kick-off for its Engineer a Better World initiative.

Engineer a Better World’s main goal is to challenge outgrown perceptions of the engineering industry and encourage more children to be excited and inspired by a potential future in STEM studies and engineering careers. The competition entries will be judged by experts from the Lunar Football Panel, with two winners announced – each receiving their Moon Utd kit design.

Ama Frimpong, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year and one of the competition judges, said: “Getting young people to think about how engineering and technology can be part of the things that they love is really important, and doing this from an early age is essential in showcasing the opportunities available and raising aspirations for careers in these sectors.
“We hope our competition really allows children to show off their creativity and have fun designing a futuristic new kit fit for Moon United, demonstrating that engineering and tech-related careers really are out of this world.”

Futurist and competition judge, Brian David Johnson, added:

“Scientists and Engineers play vital roles in progressing the world around us and shaping the future, and this extends to advancing space exploration, which will require the ingenuity of as many young people as possible with the right skills in the future. 

“With the upcoming 2025 Lunar mission set to make Moon colonisation one step closer, it’s only a matter of time until we start to think about how we engineer aspects of our lives nowadays, such as hobbies and sports, for the Moon in the future.”

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