Feature

Hometown Heroes 2009: NASA Astronaut Brings Some Heat to San Diego
09.03.09
 
NASA Astronaut Tracy Caldwell is welcomed

NASA Astronaut Tracy Caldwell is welcomed on the Jumbotron by the San Diego Padres during the 2009 Hometown Heroes Campaign. Photo Credit: San Diego Padres

Most people born before 1969 can remember where they were when man first stepped on the moon. Astronaut Tracy Caldwell cannot tell you where she was during that historic walk, since she was born after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, but she can tell you where she was on the 40th anniversary. She threw out the first pitch at a San Diego Padres baseball game.

“It was exhilarating,” said Caldwell about the first pitch, “but I’m keeping my day job.”

Caldwell attended the game as part of NASA’s 2009 Hometown Heroes campaign. Throughout the summer, astronauts are visiting their home regions to spread NASA’s message about the importance of space exploration. This campaign is also celebrating the advent of a six-person crew on the International Space Station and the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.

After throwing her strike, Caldwell presented the Padres with a photo of San Diego taken from the space station. Then she signed autographs for hundreds of fans who were thrilled to meet a hometown girl turned astronaut.

“Once I met Tracy, my feet didn’t touch the ground for the rest of the night!” said Steven Fitch, a worker at the ballpark. “The evening was so memorable that years from now I will still remember what happened.”

On the second day of Caldwell’s visit, she appeared at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park where she talked about her life as an astronaut and her upcoming mission later this year to the space station.

“I spent my whole life being a visitor to Balboa Park,” said Caldwell. “I went there to learn something new, be reminded of something past, and be taken by the sheer genius of discovery. You can’t help but dream when you’re there.”

NASA Astronaut Tracy Caldwell signs autographs

NASA Astronaut Tracy Caldwell signs autographs at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Photo Credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum

“Tracy is one of the best current astronauts I have seen speak,” said Francis French, Director of Education for the San Diego Air & Space Museum. “She really connected with the audience and made them feel like they, too, could be an astronaut.”

Caldwell told the crowd what it was like to live on the shuttle for 12 days as part of the STS-118 crew. She also answered varied questions about being an astronaut, from what to study in school to what it’s like to eat in space.

“There’s no greater mob to invite NASA into than a stadium filled with devoted fans of a favorite American pastime,” Caldwell said about the Hometown Heroes campaign. “Throw in the town astronaut and the crowd instantly connects. For this long-time baseball fan, what a pride-palooza for all Americans.”

Caldwell is currently assigned to spend six months on the space station as a Flight Engineer and member of the Expedition 23 crew.

For more information about the NASA Hometown Heroes 2009 campaign, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/astronauts
 
 
Jenny Knotts
Johnson Space Center, Houston