HOUSTON, Dec. 6, 2006 — -- There is a baseball floating around the space station right now.
It belongs to astronaut Michael Lopez Alegria, and it is from the 1984 World Series, autographed by then baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
It was floating around the space station on Monday when the flight controllers in Russia were boosting the space station's orbit to make sure the space shuttle Discovery can catch up to it and dock on the third day of the shuttle mission that is scheduled to launch this week.
Christer Fuglesang is the first Swedish astronaut to fly into space. He trained for 10 years before he got his chance to fly on STS 116, the shuttle flight headed to the space station.
He's an accomplished physicist, and by the way, he is also a Frisbee champion in Sweden. He holds the Swedish title for maximum time aloft in 1978.
He intends to set a new record for maximum time aloft for a Frisbee in space, to break the current record of 16.72 seconds, which is held by Frisbee champ Don Cain of Philadelphia, a record that was set in 1984.
Can Fuglesang break the record? Well, it seems awfully likely, since he's getting a huge boost from zero gravity.
Will he set a new speed record? Of course he will. The shuttle orbits the earth traveling 17,500 miles per hour, or five seconds a mile.
The baseball on the space station floated nonstop during the 23-minute boost of the space station on Monday. So it's a pretty safe bet the Frisbee will just hover for the duration of the mission, if Fuglesang tosses it as soon as he gets into low earth orbit. The mission runs 13 days.
Bill Wright is the president emeritus of the World Flying Disc Federation, and he is thrilled that a Frisbee is going into space. He hopes it will help people recognize that throwing a Frisbee is a world class sport, and give it the respect it deserves.
"We are a mainstream sport now, not just a bunch of hippies out playing in the park," Wright says. "It takes athletic skill and accuracy."
Fuglesang will be busy with two demanding spacewalks, but says he will squeeze in time for the Frisbee tossing because he wants to stimulate interest of children in space exploration. He admits he won't be breaking any new scientific ground with the Frisbee toss.
"I was pretty involved in throwing a Frisbee when I was in my teens and 20s. I did compete a lot. I was even involved in organizing the sport in Sweden. I did a sailing tour over the Atlantic ... and I kind of designed a Frisbee with a logo for a sail trip -- that's the one I am bringing with me," he said. "Nice memento, a little bit fun to see. I don't expect special things with this, how it behaves in the shuttle, of course I cannot really throw it there either."
But Fuglesang says he has no thought of taking it out on a spacewalk.
"That would probably be the last spaceflight that I do in that case," he says.
The Frisbee that Fuglesang is taking with him is one of his personal discs, which commemorates an Atlantic sailboat crossing.
And by the way, remember the golf ball that was whacked into orbit a couple of weeks ago? It has burned up and disappeared.