By Teresa Varley
NASA Astronaut Mike Fincke became an Internet sensation when the Pittsburgh native cheered for his hometown Steelers from of all places, aboard the International Space Station.
During a video message prior to the AFC Championship game in January, 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.
Fincke watched the Steelers play while in space and now he is getting the opportunity to do so in person when he will be honored prior to the Steelers-Bengals game at Heinz Field on Nov. 15. Fincke will present the team with the Terrible Towel he flew in space in a pregame ceremony.
Steelers' fans will even have a chance to meet him at an autograph signing prior to the game, scheduled for 11 a.m.-12 noon at the GameDay Live area on Art Rooney Avenue.
While in Pittsburgh Fincke will also visit patients at Children's Hospital and deliver an educational presentation on space exploration and NASA science research at the Carnegie Science Center.
Last March Fincke took part in a video link with Pittsburgh school students at the Carnegie Science Center and was surprised when defensive linemen Chris Hoke and Brett Keisel were on hand to lead a Terrible Towel wave, and of course Fincke has his right there in space.
"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 of having the chance to ask questions. "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.
"The greatest lesson Mike teaches all of us is to dream big. 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."