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04/22/2003  3:49 PM ET 
Astronauts to honor Columbia crew at Shea Stadium

Astronauts Mike Massimino and Mark Polansky are coming to Shea Stadium to honor the Space Shuttle Columbia crew. The astronauts will be in New York Thursday to kick off a multi-city tour with the Houston Astros to continue the crew's mission of telling the world about the importance of space research, development and exploration.

Massimino and Polansky will throw out the first pitch at Thursday night's New York Mets game against the Astros in honor of their fellow astronauts. The Astros are honoring NASA and the Space Shuttle Columbia crew during the entire 2003 season by wearing the Columbia STS-107 mission patch on the team's uniform.

In the spirit of carrying out the Astros' season opener honor as well as the mission of the STS-107 crew, NASA Astronauts will be visiting several cities the Astros are playing in this season, including Chicago and St. Louis.

The connection between the Astros and the space program dates back to the 1960s, when the then-Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros and began playing in the Astrodome. Since then, the Astros and NASA have maintained an ongoing relationship by participating together in major milestone events in the Houston area.

The Mets have also maintained a relationship with NASA and its astronauts by presenting jerseys and other items that have been flown in space and returned for safekeeping at Shea Stadium. In addition, more than 1,000 NASA employees attended a Mets' Spring Training exhibition game in Florida on March 2, 2003, where Massimino and Polansky also threw out the first pitch together.

Massimino, who lists baseball as one of his favorite hobbies, hails from Franklin Square, N.Y. His first flight was Columbia's STS-109 mission in March 2002, the fourth Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, as well as one of Space Shuttle Columbia's final missions. Polansky calls Edison, N.J., his hometown. He served as pilot on STS-98 in February 2001. That mission delivered the Destiny laboratory module to the International Space Station. He has logged more than 309 hours in space.

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