Lt. Col. Randy Bresnik is one astronaut who won't mind if his shuttle mission is delayed -- a couple of weeks would be nice -- and if the mission is postponed until December, well, that would be even better.
He is one of the six astronauts scheduled to launch Nov. 16 on the space shuttle Atlantis to carry up supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station. This will be his first flight into space, and to say he is counting the days is an understatement.
There is just one problem. If Atlantis launches as currently planned, Bresnik's wife Rebecca is due to have a baby girl on the sixth day of the mission -- about when he will be headed out of the airlock on the second spacewalk of the flight.
So, Bresnik, a former Marine Corps combat pilot with experience in Iraq, is watching the launch date very closely.
"Just like everyone else on the crew, we are trained up and ready to go whenever it goes," he said. "We know these things change, weather happens, so we take it as it is."
He would love to be there when his wife goes into labor, but he says he isn't feeling sorry for himself. "I feel fortunate that we have this miracle coming. We don't pick the timing, it is way above our pay grade," he laughs. "If I have to miss it, I look forward to hearing that mama and baby are healthy."
Bresnik and his crewmates were assigned to the flight in September 2008. Meanwhile, life on Earth continued. He and Rebecca, a lawyer, adopted a 2-and-a-half-year-old boy from Ukraine in December, then found out earlier this year they were expecting a baby. Definitely a miracle -- because now their son will have a baby sister.
Bresnik has had schedule conflicts before. When he was selected as an astronaut in 2004, he missed the press conference announcing his selection. He had a good excuse -- he and Rebecca had already scheduled their wedding at a Scottish castle for the same week.
He wouldn't be the first dad in space to miss his baby's delivery. Astronaut Mike Fincke coached his wife Renita through labor in June 2004 while he was on the International Space Station. He talked with her by radio while the space station orbited 225 miles above Earth, and welcomed a baby daughter, Tarali Paulina.
Although Fincke is among thousands of American fathers whose service to their country has prevented them from attending the birth of a child, he is the first U.S. astronaut to have celebrated the event from space.
Bresnik's fellow astronauts are sympathetic. Spacewalker Michael Foreman says they have come up with a long-distance support plan.
"What we share is that we are all military officers, so we have experience," said Foreman. "Being away when your wife was pregnant, maybe not there for the due date, this is par for the course. You expect it would be harder to miss a birth when you are an astronaut than serving in the Marine Corps, but the timing worked out great and it looks like he is going to miss it."
Atlantis' Pilot, Butch Wilmore, promises Bresnik moral support. "We understand what he will be missing if his daughter's birth occurs while we are on orbit. Randy wants to be with his wife, but he knows he is no different from the many thousands of people in our military."
Wilmore says the crew has worked out a surprise for Bresnik -- but won't reveal it yet.
Atlantis is commanded by Charlie Hobaugh, and the crew of six has become a close-knit bunch. They show off a zany sense of humor, which bodes well for a dad counting down until he welcomes a new daughter.