Astronaut Jerry Ross, who shares the world record for the most missions into outer space, has been decorated with military and NASA medals, enshrined into a hall of fame and awarded an honorary doctorate. But the accolade he is set to receive Sunday (August 9) may be a nod above them all.
For Jerry Ross is about to be immortalized as a bobblehead.
"I am thrilled about it," Ross told collectSPACE.com. "I never had a bobblehead before."
The honor comes from the Lancaster JetHawks, the Minor League Baseball team located in southern California near Edwards Air Force Base, NASA's Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Mojave Air and Space Port. On Sunday, the team will celebrate its 11th annual Aerospace Appreciation Night. [Giant Leaps: The Biggest Milestones in Human Spaceflight]
"We have been working with NASA and Edwards Air Force Base and the local aerospace community for some time to honor local aerospace legends here at the ballpark," said Will Thornhill, the general manager of the JetHawks, in an interview with collectSPACE.com. "We've had guys like Buzz Aldrin, Fred Haise and Joe Engle, and some of these have had a huge impact to the aerospace community and to our local community."
The JetHawks consulted with NASA as to who honor next and Ross immediately came to mind.
"He's done so much for the aerospace community and he was stationed out here at Edwards Air Force Base for a little while, so he has a local tie-in as well," Thornhill said. "So after looking up some of his accomplishments, it was a no-brainer type of situation to bring Jerry in and have him be our honoree this year."
Jerry Ross will be honored on the field and throw the ceremonial first pitch before Sunday's game against the High Desert Mavericks of Adelanto, California. His bobblehead, which will be given away to the first 1,000 fans through the gates at the JetHawks' stadium The Hangar, recognizes both his NASA record and his time at Edwards flying the Lancer, a supersonic variable-sweep wing bomber.
"They wanted to combine the B-1, which I had done flight testing on out at Edwards Air Force Base, with my space career," Ross said, describing the bobblehead.
"I told them it does not look anything like me — but that's okay," he said laughing.
The bobblehead's base is adorned with the NASA mission patches for Ross' seven shuttle flights: STS-61B in 1985, STS-27 in 1988, STS-37 in 1991, STS-55 in 1993, STS-74 in 1995, STS-88 in 1998 and STS-110 in 2002. In total, he logged about 1,400 hours off the planet, including almost 60 hours conducting nine spacewalks, while deploying an observatory, working at two space stations and serving on a still-classified defense mission.
"It is a perfect display of the B-1 and his mission insignias on the base, and with Jerry kind of popping out of the B-1," Thornhill said.
Fifty lucky fans will be selected to have their bobblehead signed by Ross and have their photo taken with him.
"We'd like Jerry to be able to enjoy the game. If we let him sign all 1,000, he would be stuck there for a couple of hours," explained Thornhill.
Enjoying the game shouldn't be a problem for Ross.
"I have always been very close to baseball," he remarked. "I played baseball as a kid. At one time, I wanted to be a major league baseball player, but I found that you need to have talent, so that kind of went by the boards."
"I am right now in the middle of trying to visit every major league baseball park and I just hit three in the past week, so I am up to 21," Ross added.
In addition to Ross and Aldrin, Haise and Engle, others who have been honored with JetHawks' bobbleheads have included supersonic pilot Chuck Yeager, prolific aerospace designer Burt Rutan, X-15 rocketplane pilots Bill Dana and Pete Knight, and astronauts Gordon Fullerton and Vance Brand. The team's 2010 bobblehead of shuttle commander Robert "Hoot" Gibson was voted Minor League Baseball's giveaway of the year.
See some of the previous Lancaster JetHawks' aerospace bobbleheads at collectSPACE.