Astronauts Catch 'March Madness' in Space
Astronaut Steve Swanson, STS-119 mission specialist, floats through a hatch on the International Space Station while space shuttle Discovery is docked with the station on March 18, 2009.
Credit: NASA.

Astronauts in space are hard at work building the International Space Station, but that doesn?t mean they are immune to the lure of Earth?s NCAA college basketball championship tournament.

The seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery, currently docked at the station, are receiving updates on the basketball tournament in their daily electronic mail. Mission Control has been beaming up the latest brackets for the teams since Friday.

?It?s strictly keeping them up to date in the games,? NASA spokesperson Kyle Herring told SPACE.com from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Discovery has been linked to the $100 billion International Space Station since Tuesday to ferry a new crewmember to the orbiting lab and deliver the outpost?s final set of U.S. solar arrays. The $298 million solar wings were unfurled on Friday, and astronauts plan to perform the second of three planned spacewalks on Saturday.

Herring said that before astronauts launch into space, they have a chance to choose which types of news or events to be included in their daily news roundup. One of Discovery?s crewmembers likely asked for NCAA basketball tournament updates, he said.

Discovery?s crew has at least one diehard basketball fan, lead spacewalker Steve Swanson, who mentioned his affinity for the game among his interests in his NASA biography. His crewmates also listed a variety of sports, including snowboarding, hiking, hang-gliding, soccer and NASCAR among others.

Discovery astronauts will miss the first two rounds of the basketball tournament, since they launched on March 15 and will land on March 28. The three long-duration astronauts on the space station, however, have to wait longer.

Space station skipper Michael Fincke of NASA, an admitted a football fan, is due to return to Earth with Russian cosmonaut on April 7 with a visiting American space tourist after spending six months in orbit. However, they are set to land on the barren steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, where U.S. college basketball tournament results may be harder to come by.

SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of STS-119 with reporter Clara Moskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates, live spacewalk coverage and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed. Live spacewalk coverage begins at 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT).

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