HOUSTON – It was only fitting for the stars of the MLS All-Star Game to make a stop at the single location in the United States where they deal with outer space for a living.
The Johnson Space Center rolled out the red carpet for Manchester United on Tuesday and they were joined by three MLS All-Stars for a VIP tour of NASA headquarters.
“It’s an experience and one that you might not get again and that you probably won’t,” United captain Ryan Giggs said. “The lads wanted to come. They knew [NASA was] in Houston, just a half-hour away. They jumped at the chance of coming.”
The visit started at the Mission Control Center, where NASA employees continuously monitor images and orbit maps of the International Space Station (ISS). A late night project meant that the six cosmonauts were fast asleep with a 10-hour countdown ticking away until they were to be given a wake-up call by Mission Control.
The exclusive access continued upstairs to the old Apollo Era Mission Control, which served as the inspiration for the set used in the movie Apollo 13, which every person in the delegation had seen.
“The room where the mission of 1969 was organized and launched,” said MLS All-Star Guillermo Barros Schelotto when asked about his favorite part of the NASA visit. “It’s really good to remember the places where important things in the history of the world have taken place.”
The players then got up close and personal with the machinery and replicas in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. The highlight of the afternoon stay was the opportunity to don space suits and even peek into a space shuttle.
“I put on the helmet and the pants, and that thing weighs a ton,” Dynamo All-Star Brad Davis said. “It says it weighs like 250 pounds or something like that. But it doesn’t weigh anything in space.”
Manchester United had their three goalkeepers -- Edwin van der Sar, Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Amos -- join Schelotto, Davis and New England’s Shalrie Joseph for the modeling session.
Davis was making his third trip to NASA, but Tuesday's VIP tour was unmatched.
It was a different experience for Joseph, who wore the widest smile of any player at the event. He went as far as to request a NASA official the opportunity to try out a weightless training session.
“I was asking him if I could get to float around and try some of the training the astronauts actually do,” Joseph said. “He said no. But I got to see where they train and what they do. That was pretty cool, and I had a great time here.”
MLS fans will hope Joseph’s persuasion tactics were more effective in a chance meeting with Red Devils legend Ryan Giggs at the NASA facilities.
“He’s an idol,” Joseph said. “I just talked to him about his last days and what he’s going to do after he’s done over there [at Manchester United]. I tried to encourage him to come over [to MLS] for a season or two. He said he’ll think about it.”
A victory by the MLS All-Stars over Manchester United on Wednesday at Reliant Stadium and Joseph will have American fans, and perhaps even Giggs, over the moon.