Friday, February 24, 2012
When Nashville Predators fan Tim Morrell found out his brother-in-law, Colonel Tim Kopra has been selected as one of the astronauts for flight STS-133 of the space shuttle Discovery, he had an idea.
Colonel Tim Kopra
While the main goal of the mission would be to deliver spare components and install a new module for the International Space Station, Morrell knew each crew member would be allowed to bring a limited amount of personal items into space, so he asked Kopra if he would be willing to bring a Pekka Rinne Nashville Predators jersey along for the ride.
It was to be Kopra's second trip into space, the first flight STS-127 coming in July of 2009 aboard Endeavour. During that flight, Kopra, who's grandfather immigrated to the United States from Finland, brought with a Kalevala Medal, which is awarded for Service to Finnish Culture. During that first flight, he spoke with the President of Finland Tarja Halonen via a video teleconference and then later travelled to Finland, where he presented her with the actual medal which he had taken into space.
Timothy Kopra with Finnish President Halonen
Morell's idea to ask Kopra to bring a jersey of a Finnish goaltender from his favorite team came from another crew member aboard Morell's original flight, Canadian Julie Payette, who appropriately brought with a Maurice "Rocket" Richard jersey for her trip into space.
Canadian astronaut Julie Payette poses with the Rocket Richard jersey she took into space
Morell and his wife Beth brought Kopra and his wife to their first ever game in December of 2007, a 4-3 Nashville win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, making sure all four were appropriately dressed in Predators jerseys.
The Kopras and Morrells enjoying the Predators game
With Kopra having been given so much media coverage in Finland for his Finnish ancestry, choice of the Kalevala Medal to take with on his flight and subsequent meeting with President Halonen, Rinne was already familiar with Colonel Kopra, and was honored to learn that he intended to take one of his jerseys with him on his second flight.
"It's a big deal even in Finland," Rinne said. "He has been on the news several times. That's something that the Finnish people know well. I was really surprised when I heard about it. It's awesome. Obviously I'm proud of that. It is such and exciting thing."
Kopra was scheduled for two space walks during his flight, which will be his last prior to retiring as an astronaut as well as the Army. The flight will also be the next-to-last mission for the space shuttle program in it's 30 year history.
Unfortunatley, with training for the mission having begun in October of 2009, 16 months prior to the scheduled flight, Kopra was injured in a biking accident on January 19, 2011 badly enough, said to be a possible broken hip, that he had to be replaced on the crew by astronaut Stephen Bowen with the scheduled launch less than five weeks away.
STS-133 was originally scheduled to launch on November 1, 2010, but mechanical delays pushed back the date several times, and it was during those delays that Kopra suffered his accident, putting the plan for the Predators jersey in space in serious jeopardy, as it was unknown at the time if Kopra's personal items would remain onboard for the flight.
After all the complex issues which delayed the mission had been sorted and solved, STS-133 was launched into orbit on this date in 2011.
The space shuttle Discovery
It docked with the International Space Station and successfully delivered it's payload to the space station, eventually returning to Earth on March 9, 2011 after 14 days.
On the day of the launch a NASA spokesperson reported that the Predators jersey was not listed on the official flight manifest, but left open a slight possibility that it did make in on board, but following the flight Kopra's wife relayed to her sister Beth Morrell that the #35 Rinne jersey was among the items removed from Discovery following it's return.
Today's featured jersey is a 2009-10 Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne jersey. After playing for Oulun Kärpät in Finland and being drafted 258th overall with the final pick of the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the 6' 5" Finn came to North America for the 2005-06 season to play with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, eventually leading the club to the Calder Cup Finals. That same season he played a pair of games with the Predators of the NHL, earning his first victory in the process.
After two more seasons with the Admirals, Rinne became the Predators #1 goaltender beginning with the 2008-09 season, raising his win totals from 29 to 32 and then 33 in 2010-11, 9 of those by shutout. He also participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 2009.
The Predators were founded in 1998 and wore a jersey of a unique design which remained unchanged through the 2006-07 season, save for a change in shoulder logos in 2005-06.
Today's featured jersey made it's debut in 2007-08 with the league wide introduction of the new Reebok Edge jerseys. For the introduction of the Edge jerseys, Reebok created a limited number of templates, which resulted in Nashville's design sharing a similar appearance to the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers and to a lesser degree, the Atlanta Thrashers.
In addition to the yellow piping, derisively called "the apron strings", the most maddening design element of this style jersey was, while the top half of the arms was a consistent sliver/grey in color, the underside of the sleeves was navy blue for the upper half, before unexplainably changing to white half way down for no reason whatsoever! Why the underside of the arms had to change color on the team's home dark jerseys at the midpoint, we will never fathom, especially in light of the teams road white jerseys carrying the same color from the neck to the wrist like a proper design should.
Rinne in a blue Predators jersey, showing how the underside of the sleeve change color in midstream
Today's video section begins with the launch of STS-133, the final flight of Discovery.
Next up is a collection of Pekka Rinne highlights, showing the Finnish net minder at his sprawling, diving, denying best, set to a great soundtrack.
Finally, Colonel Kopra answering questions (in English) during his trip to Finland after his flight on STS-127.