World Cup excitement has reached outer space

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are keeping an eye on the World Cup soccer tournament beginning Friday in South Africa.

By , SPACE.com Senior Writer

World Cup soccer mania has launched off planet Earth and reached astronauts living on the International Space Station.

The three spaceflyers currently on the orbiting lab will join millions of soccer fans on Earth cheering on the teams competing in the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament, set to begin Friday in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"We get together every evening for dinner and sit around the TV," said American astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson of NASA, on the typical routine at the station. "I bet you there will be some cheering around the table as we get World Cup soccer sent up to us."

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Caldwell Dyson played with some miniature soccer balls in her weightless environment, head-butting one on a NASA video. Yet she maintained that her crewmates were the real soccer experts.

"I'm not much of a soccer player," she said. "We do have a caption of the soccer team in Star City, Russia on board with us."

Caldwell Dyson lives on the space station with two Russian cosmonauts, including commander Alexander Skvortsov – who lists soccer as one of his main interests in life in his biography. And the station crew plans to take advantage of their special viewpoint on the games.

"We can see the great country that the sport's being celebrated and played in," Caldwell Dyson said. "I think that there's a few that would like to be able to see the games in person up here."

Caldwell Dyson, Skvortsov and fellow Expedition 24 crewmate Mikhail Kornienko are in the middle of a six-month mission on the space station.

They are awaiting the arrival of three more station residents next week, with the Russian Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft set to launch on Tuesday at 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 GMT) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spaceship will deliver NASA astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who are each planning to begin a long-term stay.

Yurchikhin is a veteran cosmonaut who did not always want to fly in space. In fact, as a child he once thought his future could lead him to the World Cup one day.

"I wanted to be goalkeeper in soccer," Yurchikhin said in a NASA interview. But the position of cosmonaut, he added, has also been a longtime dream.

Yurchikhin, Wheelock and Walker plan to dock at the orbiting lab on Thursday.

IN PICTURES: Crazy World Cup fans

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