HomeBack IssuesMembershipCarnegie Museums of PittsburghMedia Kit


Dreams Fulfilled

When Pittsburgh gathers for the Carnegie Science Center 2005 Awards For Excellence on April 27, guests will hear from keynote speaker Mike Fincke—native son, International Space Station alumni, and eternal dreamer.




Last year, Mike Fincke fulfilled his life’s dream of traveling to space. For six months, the Air Force Lieutenant, aeronautical engineer, and planetary scientist lived and worked with Russian Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, serving as scientific head of the mission despite the fact that he’d never been to space before. Fincke says he was scheduled for a flight on the Space Shuttle first, but it was canceled after the Columbia tragedy. “It was unusual for me as a rookie to have the chance to go to the Space Station on my first mission.”

The rookie got his big break, and he’s savored every second of it. In fact, the one thing that surprised even Mike Fincke about his six months in space was how much he really loved it. “I wondered before I went if I’d really enjoy it, especially for six months,” Fincke recalls. “But I absolutely loved it! Just the wonder of looking at our planet from space…I never got tired of it.” And he has the photos to prove it—21,000 in all.

Fincke began dreaming about space travel when he was 3 years old and “started seeing human beings walking on the moon.” He watched every Apollo mission on television—and, he says proudly, he had the advantage of living in Pittsburgh, where a young kid’s astronomical dreams could be well nurtured.

“My parents fostered my interests by taking me to Buhl Planetarium,” Fincke says. “We’d go there all the time…and then we started going to the Natural History Museum, too.”
Fincke made a point of establishing ties with Carnegie Science Center, home of the new Henry Buhl, Jr., Planetarium, after it opened in 1991. “I was really impressed,” he says of his first visit in 1996. A few years later, on a family visit to Pittsburgh, he called the Science Center and got a private tour. “I started a really good relationship with the Science Center then, which I value.” Last year, Fincke chose the Science Center as his one live downlink site from space. More than 900 students gathered at the Science Center to participate.

“A big part of our mission here at the Science Center is to motivate kids to be lifetime learners and explorers,” says Jo Haas, the Henry Buhl, Jr., Director of Carnegie Science Center. “I can’t think of anything more motivating than to interact with a man who has done exactly that—lived out his dreams through the exploration of science and, ultimately, space. The downlink was really a special event.

“Mike has become such a good friend to Carnegie Science Center,” Haas adds. “We’re looking forward to welcoming him back—this time, on the ground and not via satellite—to speak at the 2005 Awards for Excellence.”

Mike Fincke agrees that his life story is pretty inspiring. “That a guy from a blue-collar background like me could dream of going to space and then grow up and actually do it is an amazing thing,” he says

Now that his life’s dream is fulfilled, what’s a 37-year-old dreamer to do? “I’d love to go back and walk on the moon someday, or be part of a mission to Mars,” Fincke says. In the meantime, he’s content “changing diapers, trying my best to be a good husband and a good father…and doing what I can to support my country and the space program, which I love to do.”

As he spreads the word about the space program, just don’t expect him to talk about what it’s like having the “right stuff” to be a scientist in space. “Everyone has a dream and certain skills,” he says. “What’s neat is that our country has the prosperity that allows us to pursue our passions. That’s what I did. But I still can’t play the piano worth a dime.”

Back | Top