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NASA Hometown Heroes 2008: Astronaut Terry Virts Visits Baltimore
JSC2008e054409: Terry Virts throws out first pitchNASA Astronaut Terry Virts throws out the first pitch. Photo credit: NASA
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JSC2008e054407: Terry Virts with Baltimore OriolesAstronaut Terry Virts poses for a photo with Baltimore Orioles infielder Brandon Fahey and the team mascot. Photo credit: NASA

JSC2008e054405: Terry Virts signs autographsAstronaut Terry Virts signs photographs for young space enthusiasts. Photo credit: NASA

JSC2008e054415: Terry Virts with mediaAstronaut Terry Virts talks with the media. Photo credit: NASA

On a balmy July morning, NASA astronaut Terry Virts arrived at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to throw out the first pitch at the third game in a series of the Baltimore Orioles versus the Texas Rangers. The ceremony was the kick-off event of Virts’ two-day appearance on July 6 and 7 in his hometown of Baltimore.

Virts’ appearance in Baltimore was the second stop of NASA’s 2008 Hometown Heroes campaign. Throughout the summer, astronauts will visit their home regions to throw out the first pitch at Major League Baseball games.

The campaign celebrates the International Space Station’s 10th anniversary in orbit. In November 1998, the first piece of station hardware, the Russian module Zarya, was launched into low-Earth orbit.

Following the first pitch, which was a clean strike over home plate, Virts presented the Orioles with a photo of Baltimore taken from the station. After the ceremony, fans lined up for autographs at the stadium through the second inning. Virts posed with several enthusiastic, star-struck fans for pictures throughout the session.

At the beginning of the third inning, Virts was whisked away to the press box for a live interview with the Mid Atlantic Sports Network. Virts was interviewed by Rick Dempsey, a former Orioles catcher and 1983 World Series most valuable player, and veteran broadcaster Jim Hunter during the third inning while they analyzed the plays of the game.

The second day of Virts’ appearance started bright and early with a live interview on WJZ-TV’s “Coffee with Don and Marty” morning show. Don Scott and Marty Bass, Baltimore broadcasting staples and space industry buffs, talked to Virts about the importance of education and raising the next generation’s interest in science and space exploration.

“This Hometown Heroes thing is a very big deal. I mean, it’s huge. (It’s about) getting kids interested in science. We are getting outpaced by the rest of the world in science,” Bass said.

Scott echoed the importance of getting kids interested in space.

“Marty and I got interested in the space program when we were little guys. We never miss a launch,” Scott said.

After exchanging a few stories and signing autographs for the staff at WJZ, Virts headed a few blocks away to talk to Dave Durian on WBAL AM 1090’s “Dave Durian and the Morning Team.” During the interview, Virts stressed the value of education and promoted his appearance at the Maryland Science Center later that afternoon.

Virts’ appearance at the Maryland Science Center included an informal lecture to the participants of Camp MSC, a science camp program for kids ages 7 to 13. About 40 children attended the presentation.

“Terry’s presentation to our summer campers provided them some wonderful first-hand information on astronaut training, shuttle missions and the station. They were obviously in awe of meeting an astronaut in a small group,” said Jim O’Leary, senior director of the Maryland Science Center. “Meeting an astronaut from the area reminds the children that astronauts are real people, and that these children can accomplish great things too.”

When the lecture ended, Virts introduced the planetarium movie “Dark Matters.” He ended this successful Hometown Heroes event with an hour-long autograph session outside the planetarium’s doors.

“I thought the whole program that we did was perfect – the ball game, science center and media interviews were all great,” said Virts. “We made a lot of good contact with the local area. Hometown visits are the best kinds of NASA public relations, I think.”
Sean Wilson
Johnson Space Center, Houston