Oct. 2, 2008 -- Good news, bad news. It's been one of those weeks for Space Shuttle Cmdr. Scott Altman. His mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble space telescope has been delayed from this month to sometime in 2009, but his beloved Cubs are in the playoffs.
If Altman's mission had launched in October he would have barely made it back to Earth in time for the World Series. When astronauts are in orbit on a shuttle or on the space station, they get sports updates from Mission Control but there's no cable TV in space. Or pizza. But that's another story.
Altman's hometown is Chicago, and he has been a Cubs fan for as long as he can remember. Like most Cubs fans, he has always believed the team would one day make it. "I have faith. I have always said, this is the year. And this might even be the year I am right."
The final mission to repair Hubble has been delayed until 2009, because a vital communications box, which downlinks data from the telescope to the ground, failed suddenly Saturday night. So while engineers scramble to test the replacement, and NASA figures out when to schedule the space shuttle mission, the crew has some unexpected spare time. Altman can follow the Cubs progress.
Alas, while Altman is celebrating one of the spacewalkers on his crew is trying to get over the Mets' fall from grace. Brooklyn born spacewalker Mike Massimino is such a devoted Mets fan he has spent hours trying to figure out how to get home plate from Shea Stadium on the Space Shuttle Atlantis for its trip to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Why home plate? The Mets want to one up the Yankees. Astronaut Garrett Reisman took dirt from the pitchers mound at Yankee Stadium to the space station earlier this year. Massimino says the Mets thought they could do better than dirt. "They came up with the plate idea, but Massimino says, "fitting home plate in the limited packing space on an orbiter was a problem."
He took his engineering dilemma to one of the best tool guys in the astronaut corps, Don Pettit. There is a legend around the Johnson Space Center that Pettit took his own tool kit to the International Space Station a few years ago. "I told Don about my dilemma, and while he isn't a big baseball fan, although his kids are playing little league now, he can figure things out. So I went over to his garage with my son, since Don has got lots of tools, and we figured out a way that we could slice off the black part of the plate, and we could re attach it clean."
When home plate comes back from its 12 days in orbit next spring, it will be presented once again to the Mets. However, now that the shuttle flight has been delayed, and the Cubs are in the playoffs, perhaps Scott Altman will have to find room for a World Series pennant in his luggage.