An astronaut will take to the field as a baseball player walks on the moon — at least, the latter in bobblehead format — as part of NASA Night with the Houston Astros.
Fans attending Saturday's (July 16) baseball game at Minute Maid Park will be treated to a celebration of the 53rd anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 first lunar landing mission. Anne McClain, who spent more than 200 days aboard the International Space Station in 2019, will throw out out the ceremonial first pitch, while a toy version of the Astros' second baseman, Jose Altuve, will be available to attendees as a souvenir of the space-themed event.
"Back by popular demand, NASA Night will return to Minute Maid Park on July 16th as the Astros face the Oakland Athletics," the team promoted on its website. "Join us as we celebrate the anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch with a special pregame ceremony and fun space-themed activations around the ballpark."
Offered as an add-on to tickets to the game is a collectible figure depicting Altuve in a white spacesuit standing on the moon beside an Apollo lunar module.
"Commemorate the iconic Apollo 11 moon landing with this limited-edition, Astros-themed moon lander bobblehead," the website reads. The memento costs $40.
Back on the field, the real Altuve and his Astros teammates will sport their City Connect uniforms celebrating their connection to "Space City." The new-to-this-season Nike garments also include a nod to the Apollo 11 mission with a gold lunar module and the words, "Houston, the Eagle has landed" embroidered above the jock tag.
In addition to McClain, fellow NASA astronaut and Artemis team member Jessica Meir will also be at the game to take part in a special "play ball" moment. Meir, who made headlines as one half of the first all-female spacewalk, will present the Astros with a baseball that flew on board the station during the 2019 World Series.
"This 17,500 mph fastball found its way to the International Space Station cupola," Meir wrote on Twitter, captioning a photo she took of the baseball while in orbit.
Before entering the park, attendees can check out NASA's Driven to Explore mobile exhibit and pose for a spacesuit photo opportunity. Space Center Houston, the visitor center for Johnson Space Center, will also be there, inviting fans to decorate postcards that will be carried on a Blue Origin New Shepard launch and then returned to them with a stamp certifying it as having flown in space.
Once inside Minute Maid Park, fans can watch a pre-recorded message from the Expedition 67 crew aboard the space station, see NASA announcements during inning changes, learn NASA facts as they are highlighted on the big screen and hear space-themed music. Vanessa Wyche, Johnson Space Center director, may also be spotted around the stadium as she meets with the Astros organization.
NASA Night has been an Astros' tradition for decades. Named in honor of Houston hosting the space agency's Manned Spacecraft Center (today, Johnson Space Center), the team has hosted astronauts dating back to the Mercury 7, who threw out a ceremonial pitch in 1965. Future NASA Nights are currently being planned.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.