NEW YORK - The longtime home of the New York Mets baseball team, Shea Stadium, may be history, but a crucial part has been immortalized by a trip to space.
NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, a New Yorker and fervent Mets fan, took Shea Stadium's home plate with him on a recent trip to the Hubble Space Telescope, where he and six crewmates aboard the space shuttle Atlantis successfully overhauled the aging observatory.
"We're allowed to take up items that are from organizations that are important to us," Massimino told SPACE.com. "The Mets are great. They're tearing down their old stadium. What better way to represent a stadium or a ball field than home plate?"
Massimino, 46, is set to present the plate, returned from its 5.2 million-mile trip to space, Friday evening at a Mets game where he will throw the first pitch.
"I'm a big baseball fan, I'm from New York, and the Mets were my favorite team growing up," Massimino said.
Queen's Shea Stadium was the home of the Mets from 1964 until 2008, when the team moved to the adjacent Citi Field. After tonight's presentation, the Shea home plate is set to be displayed in the new stadium.
New York state of mind
Massimino is a native of Franklin Square in long Island. He now lives in Houston with his wife and two children. But though he's traveled far and wide, including to space, he said New York will always be home.
"I've lived lots of different places, but New York is my home for sure," Massimino said. "I do feel like a New Yorker at heart."
Massimino joined NASA?s astronaut corps in 1996. Since then, he has logged almost 24 days in space over two shuttle flights, both to Hubble. During the recent mission, he even used his brute strength to yank a stuck handrail off the Hubble Space Telescope to clear the way to replace a broken instrument. ?
On Thursday, Massimino spent time visiting the New York City Fire Museum, where he presented an American flag flown to Hubble in honor of 9/11 firefighter victims and families. The astronaut's late father was a New York Fire Department fire inspector.
"I went to the Fire Department museum yesterday," Massimino said Friday morning. "That was pretty cool, getting a chance to see the chief of the Fire Department and give them mementos from the flight."
Massimino said taking up items with him on space missions help to keep him connected to his roots on the ground.
"You can't take friends and family with you, but you can take stuff," he said. "That?s kind of a way to pay tribute to my hometown. Pay tribute and also take something with me that makes me feel like they're there with me."
Rounding out his weekend visit to the city was a trip to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, onboard the World War II aircraft carrier USS Intrepid and other ships docked at Pier 86 on Manhattan's west side. Massimino was the keynote speaker there at a summer youth leadership conference on Thursday.
On Friday before the baseball game, the astronaut plans to make an educational presentation at the New York Public Library, and visit the New York Hall of Science Rocket Mini Golf Park.
Tweets from space
Each appearance gives him a chance to connect with people who are interested in space and talk about his work at Hubble.
"People have just watched the mission and everybody's pretty excited," he said. "Everybody benefits from Hubble. We all can appreciate the beauty of the universe that Hubble shows us."
Massimino even became the first person to "tweet" from space when he sent status updates from orbit to his followers on Twitter. Massimino opened the Twitter account, @Astro_Mike, before his recent mission as a way to keep the public informed and interested in NASA's human spaceflight missions.
"From orbit: Just saw Orion?s nebula in the night sky ? the sights make all the hard work and risk worthwhile for me," Massimino tweeted May 20 from space.
- Video - Home Movies From Hubble - Telescope's Release
- Video Show - Hubble's Final Shuttle Service Call
- Image Gallery - Hubble's Latest Views of the Universe: Part 1, Part 2