NASA astronaut Benjamin Alvin Drew, Jr, who goes by his middle name, poses for a mission specialist portrait.
When country music legend Willie Nelson set out to make a video for his song, "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore," premiering this Saturday on MTV, he invited some of his celebrity friends, including Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Jessica Simpson, and even veteran anchor Dan Rather to appear alongside him.
He did not however, invite Alvin Drew.
For that matter, when NASA astronaut Alvin Drew visited Austin last November, his plan was to go running with a friend. That he ended the day not only on the set of, but appearing in Nelson's music video came as unexpected.
"I do listen to Willie Nelson's music, but I wouldn't call myself a rabid fan, where I would go out and look for places to go check Willie Nelson out," explained Drew, who logged 13 days in space as a mission specialist on shuttle Endeavour's August 2007 STS-118 flight to the International Space Station. "I was over in Austin visiting a friend of mine, a LifeFlight helicopter pilot over there and one of my former commanders in the Air Force," he told collectSPACE.com during a telephone interview from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
His friend had invited him to join him at his running club, where they met another regular, a friend of the singer.
"So we get all done running and cleaned up, and he says, 'Hey, you want us to go over and spend some time at Willie Nelson's bar?' The friend I was with in Austin is a huge Willie Nelson fan, so he said, 'Why don't you come with us. It would be a great thing to go do. We'll go over to Willie Nelson's bar and have a beer, meet Willie Nelson and then have a relaxing afternoon.'," recalled Drew.
But as the three arrived at Nelson's ranch, they were met by guards.
"There's security at the front gate, which kind of surprised me because I didn't think of Willie Nelson as someone who keeps security at his front gate," said Drew. "It turns out because they were shooting a video."
The guards were there, of course, because of Nelson's invited guests. Little did they know, they had someone who reached for the stars of a different type waiting just outside.
That discovery however, would need to wait. They didn't need astronauts. For now, they needed extras.
"It turns out they needed extras for the final scene when they are giving out awards," recounted Drew. "They were looking for people to be extras, especially people with flash cameras. So, that is why I got recruited to go out there with a flash camera."
"At that point, I was just part of the general public that was out there."
Drew's scene appears toward the end of the video as Dan Rather hands out a trophy following "some kind of power mower race. I am in the crowd of cheering people, behind Owen WIlson and Woody Harrelson."
It was Nelson's friend, the one from the running club, who finally introduced Drew to the singer and let his "day job" be known.
"It was only after they were all done and it was a wrap, and we were sitting around in Willie Nelson's bar, that it came up," Drew said with a laugh. "I sat there and had a good long chat with Willie Nelson."
"He thought it was pretty interesting."
"I had a really interesting chat with Dan Rather about the Apollo space program, about some of his firsthand eyewitness accounts of that whole thing. And of course, I got to chat with Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson, who were kind of fascinated with what it would be like to be weightless in space for a couple of weeks," shared Drew.
There was one aspect of the encounter that Drew found a tad unreal. For his role in the video, he donned a bandana with a pair of Nelson's trademark braids.
"It's just a little bit surreal to be talking to Willie Nelson while I am wearing his bandana and braids," he said while laughing. "He didn't seem to mind, though."
"I got to keep them," Drew admitted of his 'costume'. "As a souvenir of the whole thing, I've got it hanging up in my van over the mirror."
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