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Robert Satcher, left, will be taking an NBA All-Star jersey on the Nov. 16 mission.
Photo courtesy of NASA

Q&A with Robert Satcher, taking All-Star jersey to space

Posted Nov 12 2009 7:20AM

Robert Satcher is a doctor, chemical engineer, and astronaut who will board the shuttle Atlantis for his first trip into space on mission STS-129 on Nov. 16. Each astronaut is permitted to take 20 personal items onboard and Satcher, a long-time NBA fan, chose an NBA All-Star jersey. Home Court caught a few minutes with Satcher to talk about becoming an astronaut, his upcoming mission, and his love of the NBA.

Q: Tell me about your relationship with the NBA. When did you begin following the league?

A: I have always been an NBA fan ever since I was a little kid. I grew up in Virginia, and so I liked Washington growing up. Then at the beginning of my professional career I was in Chicago, and I followed the Chicago Bulls when I was there. I live in Houston now, but I still follow Washington and Chicago closely and the Rockets too. But I've always been an NBA fan and enjoyed playing the game for fun.

Q: What is your connection to the league today?

A: A good friend of mine, Bill Terrell, works for the league (in Events & Attractions). He is actually one of my kid's godparents. We met a few years back and have been friends ever since. We met through my wife -- both of them are orthopedic surgeons and we would meet at conferences and talk there. Having a friend working for the league intensified my interest in following it. He gets around to a lot of the games and keeps me informed of the latest news, and it provides an additional dimension to my understanding of the game to hear about it that way.

Q: Each astronaut is allowed to take 20 personal items with them into space, and you chose to take an NBA All-Star jersey as one of yours. What made you choose that item?

A: A lot of Astronauts decide to take jerseys from their favorite teams; I thought it would be great to take an All-Star jersey since it represents all teams, instead of having to pick one or two. What was difficult was how to choose an East or West jersey. I like teams from both, so we decided to make a combined jersey with East on one side and West on the other. We're not calling either side the front or back. We're going to actually reveal the jersey in orbit. We haven't worked out the details of how we're going to reveal it yet. I will be tweeting from outer space, so we'll make an announcement on Twitter.

Q: How did you come to be an astronaut?

A: It's something that I dreamed about during childhood. I came up during the Apollo missions and I remember the grainy footage of the astronauts stepping onto the moon. It had a profound effect on me, as it did on many others of that generation. I decided to participate if I could. I had the good fortune of meeting many former space program members, and I realized I could apply for the program myself.

Q: Can you tell me about the process of getting into the space program?

A: It is an extensive process. When I applied in 2003, they had thousands of applicants and they narrowed it down to 100 for interviews. I felt lucky just to be selected for that. The interview is a weeklong process, during which you come down to the space center in Houston and do an extensive medical exam and then FBI background checks, and they interviewed my friends and relatives. I cleared all that and finally got that phone call. I was working at Northwestern University and they said I'd been selected and could start that fall. They said they weren't sure if we'd get a chance to fly on the shuttle, because at the time the retirement date of the current shuttle fleet was in question. But they said that if I was interested I could come on down, and I decided it was an opportunity that I couldn't turn down.

Q: This is your first mission into space. Which part of it are you most looking forward to?

A: The spacewalk; getting in the spacesuit and going out. It gives you a spectacular view of surroundings, and it's as close as you can get to being in the vacuum of outer space. There's nothing between you and that other than the spacesuit.

Q: Is there any part of the mission that you're nervous about?

A: I'm not really nervous about the flight or anything, but we have a crew of six guys, and I'm a little nervous about how it's going to smell after three days.

Q: One of the most memorable events in the history of NASA occurred when Alan Shepard hit his historic golf shot on the moon during Apollo 14. Any thought about bringing a Spalding basketball with you to play a little one-on-one on the International Space Station?

A: We know there was a basketball up in the space station at some point, and we're trying to find out if it's still there. We'd want to play some one-on-one if it's there. [Fellow astronaut] Leyland Melvin is a former football player, and he's been bragging about how much game he has.

Q: As an avid NBA fan, which NBA player would you like to meet?

A: Because of when I came up, I relate to my contemporaries. I love the younger guys, like Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Kobe; I think they're all spectacular. But I tend to think about Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Magic Johnson. Those guys are right around my age and were in college when I was, which was when I really fell in love with the NBA.

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