By Teresa Varley
NASA Astronaut Mike Fincke became an Internet sensation when the Pittsburgh native cheered his hometown Steelers on from of all places, aboard the International Space Station.
During a video message prior to the AFC Championship game, Fincke had the opportunity to talk football and showed his support of the Steelers by putting on a hat and doing one of the most unique Terrible Towel waves ever, as he and the towel floated in zero gravity.
Fincke, who is the commander of the three-astronaut Expedition 18 crew, grew up in Emsworth, Pa. and has always been a Steelers fan and was thrilled to be able to actually watch the black and gold in action during the playoffs thanks to Mission Control.
"We'd like to say that up here, its Steeler country," a smiling Fincke said during the message.
It was something that stirred Steelers fans and players alike, who were all amazed that the support reached so far. So there was no doubt that when the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh and NASA arranged to do a video link with Fincke for local students on Thursday that the black and gold would have to be a part of it.
Defensive linemen Chris Hoke and Brett Keisel joined the group of students at the Carnegie Science Center and surprised Fincke during the live video link, leading an enthusiastic Terrible Towel wave to show their support of him. Not surprisingly, Fincke had his towel and was ready to join right in.
"He is a big part of the Steelers Nation," said Hoke. "For him to be up there waving his towel and supporting us, telling us how awesome we are and how great the game was, it was exciting. It's guys like him who make us who we are and make the Steelers who they are."
Hoke and Keisel both had the chance to ask Fincke questions, including how he sleeps in the space station, to what each day is like and even if they have found any aliens out there.
"It was really cool," said Keisel. "It was something I have never experienced. I had butterflies. This guy is out in space exploring for us and the whole world. It was cool to have the opportunity to speak one-on-one with him and ask questions. It was really neat."
Fincke, who did get to watch the Super Bowl, was all smiles when the players invited him to come and watch practice whenever he is back in Pittsburgh.
"You get the whole city riled-up and bring out the best in people," said Fincke, who returns to Earth on April 7. "You had a great season this year and will have a better one next year. You guys are amazing."
The feeling was definitely mutual.
"It's amazing that he maybe knows who we are," said Keisel. "These scientists do so much for everyone's knowledge. That they know us and appreciate what we do and we can maybe provide some sort of entertainment for him is really neat. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to talk to him."
Hoke, who when Fincke disappeared from the video monitor for a moment while floating asked him "where did you go bro," was looking forward to sharing the experience with his kids.
"It was so cool to talk to a guy in the space station," said Hoke. "When you were in the room you felt like you were there with him. He is a really cool guy. To ask questions and see what every day life like is for him is amazing. I kind of wish I was up there with him right now."
Once Hoke and Keisel were finished with their questions, area students had the opportunity to ask some of their own. Fincke shared the story of how he used to go to the Carnegie Science Center when it was known as Buhl Planetarium and as a kid hoped to one day be an astronaut.
"The greatest lesson Mike teaches all of us is to dream big," said Keisel. "He came here when he was a little kid and dreamt about being an astronaut. He stuck with it. Went to school, did what it took and look where he is today."