TASCA VISITS JOHNSON SPACE CENTER; SPENDS TIME IN SEAT FRIEND MARK KELLY USED TO TRAIN

Charlotte, N.C. – It’s hard to imagine how many thoughts an astronaut has right before a launch. How long the task list must be when Space is your destination. Is a launch as impossible to capture in words as it is for a Funny Car driver to describe the acceleration off the starting line?

Of the two, a Funny Car accelerates quicker. But the propulsion, the feeling behind the force of sheer weight moving so quickly, is similar. Maybe that’s why Bob Tasca III, driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Shelby Mustang, and Mark Kelly, commander of Space Shuttle Endeavour, became fast friends so quickly.

The NHRA Full Throttle Series returns to Houston, home of Johnson Space Center, April 29-May 1, 2011 for the NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway. The thing Tasca looks forward to the most about Houston – besides the low altitude and chance for the altitude/weather combo that produces blistering speeds – is his annual visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

On Thursday, Tasca made his visit with Top Fuel driver David Grubnic. The two fired off questions at every exhibit, fascinated by the history of NASA and the science behind the speed.

It was during one of his tours that he met Mark Kelly and his twin brother Scott, both U.S. astronauts with significant flight time around the world and universe to their credit. Since the meeting, Tasca and Mark have kept in touch. Tasca planned to attend the high-profile launch of the Endeavour, the last to the International Space Station, in April, before a planned arrival of a Russian tanker in the vicinity forced a postponement.

The launch, which Mark’s wife U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) plans to attend, is now scheduled on the same day as the first day of eliminations, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Giffords’ attendance will mark one more step in the miraculous recovery she’s reportedly made since being shot in the head in a mass shooting in front of a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. on January 8.

While Tasca will be the prime motivator for the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Funny Car team, Mark Kelly will command the Endeavour.

While at the Johnson Space Center, both Tasca and Grubnic spent as much time in any seats they could find – not a surprise for curious drivers. They successfully “landed” a Shuttle Training Aircraft, and competed to see who could fly, and land, a flight simulator best. Excerpts from the visit will be broadcasted during ESPN2’s coverage of the race this weekend. The qualifying show airs at 6 p.m. on Saturday (April 30). Elimination coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday (May 1) on ESPN2.

“It’s just an incredible place,” Tasca said. “We talk to their engineers and it’s amazing some of the similarities between our two ‘sports.’ The level of detail that they go through, and the redundancies in their program that they have for safety and checks-and-balances are very similar to the redundancies and checks-and-balances in our program. It’s been a great relationship that we’ve had with a lot of the folks over there.”

The relationship will continue to grow, as friends from NASA plan to attend the race this weekend.

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NEXT EVENT, NHRA Full Throttle Series

24th annual NHRA Spring Nationals, Royal Purple Raceway

Houston – April 29-May 1, 2011

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