For Space Commander, Birthday Wishes From Earth
NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, Expedition 18 commander, smiles for a photo in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station during the first few hours since his arrival on the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft on Oct. 14, 2008.
Credit: NASA.

For most of us on Earth, a birthday typically means another year older and maybe some cake with friends. But on Saturday, NASA astronaut Michael Fincke will celebrate his birthday without such luxuries aboard a $100 billion space station 220 miles (354 km) above Earth.

NASA has opened the gates for the public to send an electronic birthday card to Fincke, who will celebrate his 42nd birthday Saturday aboard the International Space Station, far from his wife Renita and their three children.

Instead, Fincke - a two-time spaceflyer who currently commands the space station - will have only his two crewmates for company. To make up for it, NASA has set up a portal for the public to send birthday wishes to Fincke using one of four different electronic cards.

?There are four postcards with greetings like ?Hope your birthday is out of this world,?? said NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean Friday during the agency?s daily space station commentary hour. ?The cards will be e-mailed up to Fincke on orbit.?

The digital birthday cards include images of Fincke taken during his two spaceflights.

It?s not the first time Fincke, a Pennsylvania native, has been stuck in space during family milestones.

In 2004, he was orbiting the Earth as an Expedition 9 flight engineer when his second child - daughter Tarali - was born. He spoke to his wife by telephone during the delivery, but had to wait until he landed four months later to hold his daughter for the first time. More recently, he cheered his beloved Steelers on to victory in last month?s Super Bowl from the space station.

It?s been a busy week for Fincke and his crew.

The astronauts are in the home stretch of their six-month Expedition 18 mission and are awaiting the launch of NASA?s space shuttle Discovery, which is slated to liftoff on Sunday to deliver new solar arrays and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata to the space station. Wakata will replace NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus as a member of the station?s crew. Fincke and Russian flight engineer Yury Lonchakov are due to land in early April.

The spaceflyers also had to take refuge inside their docked Soyuz spacecrafton Thursday when a piece of space trash flew too close to the space station. The measure was safety precaution in case the debris ? later found to be a 5-inch (13-cm) wide remnant of an old rocket motor ? punched a hole in the station and forced an evacuation. The debris passed the station by without incident and life aboard the station returned to normal.

Earlier this week, Fincke and Lonchakov ? who celebrated his own 44th birthday last week ? spent nearly six hours spacewalking outside the International Space Station to add an experiment and perform other maintenance. Fincke said the views of Earth from inside his spacesuit was a great way to mark his birthday.

"This is a great gift for my birthday," Fincke said during the Tuesday spacewalk.

Click here to send a birthday card to space station commander Michael Fincke.

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