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Friends in high places

July 21, 2017

“Station, this is Garth Brooks, how do you hear me?”

This was the scene in the Christopher C. Kraft Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on June 29 as country superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood spoke to NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Brooks came to Johnson after learning from a post on Fischer’s Twitter account that “The River” was his favorite song—and the one that he listened to on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan before launching to the orbiting laboratory on April 20.

Though mission control was where Brooks and Yearwood first stopped at Johnson, they first talked with flight controllers in Flight Control Room 1, learning more about the space station and its groundbreaking research. The pair even had the opportunity to “drive” a camera on station.

“Everyone was so great in mission control; I just didn’t want to break anything,” Brooks said. “I really felt at ease driving the camera. They made you feel as smart as they are, and you know that isn’t true.”

Once Brooks and Yearwood completed their camera training and were announced as honorary flight directors by Chief Flight Director Norm Knight, Brooks made that special call up to the pair of astronauts in orbit. Fischer brought Brooks to tears when he thanked him for the impact that his songs had on his life and went on to explain why “The River” had been his anthem for nearly three decades.

“Dreams are changing,” Fischer said. “You have to find something that you’re passionate about and that you love, and then you follow it and see where it goes. The good Lord is going to put you where you should be, and that’s what that song says and why it means so much to me.”

After they spoke for about 10 minutes, Brooks brought out a guitar and sang a duet of “The River” with Yearwood from the CAPCOM console. Fischer could be seen singing along from space on the screen in the front of the room.

At the end of the song, Brooks, Yearwood, Fischer and Whitson posed for what Brooks called “the world’s longest selfie.” The entirety of the interaction can be found on Brooks’ Facebook Live, which was viewed by nearly a million people.

After leaving mission control, Brooks and Yearwood visited the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF), where they were joined by astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman for a tour of the space station and Soyuz mock-ups. There, the country crooners got familiar with the vehicles Fischer has used during his spaceflight journey.

“Tracy is what a true American hero looks like and acts like,” Brooks said. “She was so smart, and one of the best communicators I have ever had the pleasure to talk to. Tracy also had her momma with her; that made me love her even more.”

Brooks and Yearwood ended the SVMF tour by signing the “celebrity hatch” that features other big names who have toured Johnson, joining ranks with stars like Justin Bieber and One Direction, to name a few. Brooks started his own tradition, though, when he signed a life-sized cardboard cutout of Fischer affectionately known as “flat Jack.”

The final stop on the tour was Johnson’s Food Lab, where the pair was joined by Fischer’s family and JSC Director Ellen Ochoa for a meal that astronauts enjoy aboard the station. This impressed Yearwood particularly, as she herself is a celebrity cook.

"The what I called a ‘maple muffin cookie’ was my favorite,” Brooks said. “I was totally blown away with how long the folks there have to create food that is still good to eat and nutritional. Plus, it has to last something like four years. Those cookies wouldn't last four years in our house."

It seems that for a person who is known for having “friends in low places,” his new friends in the space program were certainly a big hit.

“My favorite thing about NASA was how much of a family it is,” Brooks said. “Even with the space peeps on the other side of the globe.”

Check out Brooks’ Facebook page to see the behind-the-scenes video of Brooks’ tour at NASA.

Garth Brooks

Country singer Garth Brooks adds his signature to the “celebrity hatch,” which features other big names who have toured NASA's Johnson Space Center. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz 

Noah Michelsohn
NASA Johnson Space Center
Country superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood take the
Country superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood take the "world's longest selfie" in mission control in Houston. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Brooks has an uproariously good time with
Brooks has an uproariously good time with "flat Jack" Fischer, the cardboard cutout of one of the NASA astronauts currently aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Brooks signs
Brooks signs "flat Jack" while visiting the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Brooks sings
Brooks sings "The River" to the space-faring explorers orbiting Earth—a particular favorite of Fischer's. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz