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Astros fan Virts is out of this world

Astronaut keeps up with MLB while orbiting planet

We don't know about his Astros, but Terry Virts will return to Earth shortly. In the meantime, he is watching Major League Baseball in outer space as MLB.TV is being streamed for him by request on the International Space Station.

The commander of Expedition 43 shares his days and nights orbiting the planet, conducting experiments, securing cargo hatches, floating about with two fellow NASA astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts. MLB Advanced Media has worked with Virts' Behavioral Health and Performance team this season, providing them full-game archives of Astros games the following day so he can watch the fresh archives while in space.

Virts tweets all of us baseball selfies, SpaceVines, mind-blowing pics and videos of our blue rock and the galaxies, so that's the least we can do. He went up last November and was scheduled to come home on May 13. Due to a checkout of Soyuz rockets' engines with the Russian Space Program, Virts' landing was pushed back to 7:40 a.m. CT on June 11, so the next trip to Minute Maid Park will have to wait a bit.

With NASA's help, we sent five questions up to the Space Station to see exactly how one fits an MLB schedule into a space-travel schedule. These answers were just beamed back: Why do you want to watch the Astros while in space?

Virts: It brings a piece of Earth to me up here in space. I always love the baseball season, and this just allows me to experience a small part of it. It really is a bright spot in the day, watching a game while I'm working out or eating. From a technical aspect, in what way might it be different for you to access these games than for the average fan who logs in from "anywhere" here on Earth?

Virts: We need one of our NASA comm satellites to be in view, so we don't have coverage 24/7, only about half of the time. It also depends on available staffing in the Mission Control Center, to make the arrangements to technically "ship up the signal." So it's not as easy as just clicking a button on your iPhone! Schedule-wise, how would you fit innings of baseball into your busy routine aboard the ISS? A few batters at a time mixed in with science experiments, for example, or can you watch a whole game in one sitting up there?

Virts: I usually watch the game while I work out on the "ARED," a resistance exercise machine. So I'll try to watch an hour or so per day. Also, I may watch some during lunchtime, or if I'm working in one of our modules with a convenient TV. But usually it's just during workouts. What has it been like to see your favorite team jump out to this kind of start atop the American League West and surprise everyone across MLB?

Virts: It is absolutely awesome. I remember going to many playoff games, and even a World Series game in 2004 and 2005. And it's been a long drought since then. So Astros fans are extremely happy. I'm not entirely surprised. I knew they had a lot of talent, and young talent is what winning teams need these days. Nobody expected this (31-20 enter the week), but I'm not surprised that they are winning. And I won't be surprised to see them playing in October -- and hopefully winning the last game of the year. That's always the goal. You list "baseball" first in your NASA bio for personal interests. Have you always been an Astros fan? And do you attend their games at Minute Maid Park when you're around Johnson Space Center?

Virts: I grew up in Baltimore, so the Orioles are my hometown team. I am a converted Astros fan after moving to Houston when I became an astronaut. Going to Astros games with my son has been one of the best parts of living in Houston! We've made a lifetime of memories at the ballpark.

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Anyone not aboard the Space Station can sign up to watch live out-of-market and/or archived full-game broadcasts, and the timing is doubly auspicious. MLBAM just introduced its new Web-based media player (version 5.0) that lives within your browser, and greeted June by lowering the cost of a yearly subscription to $99.99 for MLB.TV Premium and $79.99 for MLB.TV.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.