After ISS, a Starship Ride for NASA Astronaut
Real-life NASA astronauts Michael Fincke (right) and Terry Virts (left) dressed in Starfleet garb with actor Scott Bakula, who portrays Captain Jonathan Archer of the starship Enterprise NX-01, during taping of the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Credit: NASA.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel Michael Fincke is not just a professional NASA astronaut; he also plays one on T.V.

Tonight, during the final episode of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” Fincke will appear as an NX-01 engineer on the show’s fictional starship. For the now-experienced astronaut – Fincke has flown aboard both the International Space Station (ISS) and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft – there are parallels between the television show’s mantra and NASA real-life vision of space exploration.

“They show the peaceful exploration of space, and that’s what we do here at NASA,” Fincke said of the “Star Trek: Enterprise” cast and crew."Science fiction, in general, has inspired not just astronauts but all humans by giving form to our dreams to explore."

NASA astronaut Terry Virts also appears in the final "Star Trek: Enterprise" episode. Both he and Fincke visited the set during vacation.

"As a kid, I became interested in shows like the original Star Trek series and the first Star Trek feature movies," Virts said in a NASA interview. "They definitely had an impact in motivating me to a career with NASA."

It has been nearly seven months since Fincke returned to Earth after a successful six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where he served as Expedition 9 flight engineer and science officer alongside Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. Since his Earthly return in October 2004, he's split his time between the family he left behind and sharing his experience with reporters, actors, students and fellow NASA employees.

"The nicest time is the family time," Fincke told SPACE.com. "There's been a lot of good father-daughter time."

Fincke's daughter Tarali was born just before Father's Day in June 2004 while he orbited overhead and spoke to his wife Renita via telephone. By the time he set foot on Earth, she was about four months old. He and Renita also have one son, Chandra.

Rookie no more

Fincke was a space rookie going into Expedition 9, with eight years of training, four of which spent serving as a backup crewmember for ISS-bound spaceflights. Finally reaching space was the culmination of a personal dream for the astronaut.

"As an astronaut, I've accomplished about everything I set out to do in my career," Fincke told SPACE.com. "But as Gennady and I already said publicly and privately, we'd love to go again."

Fincke and Padalka conducted four spacewalks during their mission - though one lasted mere minutes – and performed a series of repairs to both a U.S. spacesuit and a power unit for one of the station’s orientation gyroscopes. Padalka spent time working with the Russian-built Elektron oxygen generator as well.

“A lot of it was applicable to future space exploration,” Fincke said of the orbital repairs. “It’s great to be able to do things [first] close at 240 miles away, as opposed to 240,000 miles away.”

While in orbit, Fincke spoke via space-to-ground link with actor Scott Bakula, who portrays the starship captain Jonathon Archer on Star Trek: Enterprise.

“That was definitely one of the highlights,” Fincke said. He and Padalka later received a Starfleet Award for their work aboard the ISS.

The two Expedition 9 astronauts, along with ISS-visiting cosmonaut Yuri Shargin, rode their Soyuz reentry vehicle down to a somewhat off-kilter landing when high winds blew the spacecraft over on its side.

“I think our landing was a little more solid than the average, and we caught a gust of wind,” Fincke said. “But we all landed safely and nothing was hurt.”

Benefiting from experience

Working alongside Padalka was among the largest benefits for Fincke, who also trained with the cosmonaut for four years as the backup crews for both Expeditions 4 and 5 to the space station.

“Gennady is an experienced guy, and he took me under his wing so that next time, I could be the experienced guy,” Fincke said. “He took the extra time to show leadership, and how to be a good commander.”

Fincke said that while returning NASA’s space shuttle to flight is imperative for the U.S. space program, not only to regain its human spaceflight capability but also to complete the ISS, pushing out toward the moon and beyond is the ultimate goal for the planet as a whole.

“I’ve always believed that humans are someday going to inherit the stars,” Fincke said in an interview. “I think it’s in our destiny.”

“Star Trek: Enterprise” will air at 8:00 p.m. EDT on UPN (Check local listings).

  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 9