National Opinions

Subscribing in space

Astronaut Anne McClain displays her Gonzaga Prep Bullpups T-shirt as she participates in an Earth-to-Space video downlink to a gathering of city-wide students at G-Prep, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The Spokane astronaut returned to earth June 24 after 204 days in space.
Astronaut Anne McClain displays her Gonzaga Prep Bullpups T-shirt as she participates in an Earth-to-Space video downlink to a gathering of city-wide students at G-Prep, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The Spokane astronaut returned to earth June 24 after 204 days in space. The Spokesman-Review

Our customer service department at The Spokesman-Review is used to getting calls from people well outside of Spokane County asking to start home delivery of our newspaper.

For decades, this newspaper had one of the largest circulation areas of any “local” newspaper in the nation. Lots and lots and lots of miles.

Even into Canada.

But this customer call last December was different.

It was from Houston, which even during our parcel prime would have been a real stretch. Then we realized it was NASA, proving caller ID is still a relevant feature. A longtime resident wanted daily delivery of The Spokesman-Review.

At the International Space Station.

We get worried about delivering our newspaper to Lewiston, let alone the Earth’s orbit. This is one of those moments where you look hard into the mirror and start using “Bezos” as a swear word.

On the other hand, it was a subscription for Anne McClain — the youngest astronaut ever on NASA’s roster. For those of you scoring at home, she’s from Spokane.

First off, NASA has done this before. Not with us, but they’ve definitely subscribed to newspapers so that their astronauts can read the news from down here on Earth, but notably in their hometowns. They knew that they wanted a subscription to our e-edition — which is a digital reproduction of our printed newspaper.

That typically costs. Then we realized we should make an exception. We call it the “if you’re an astronaut from Spokane and are currently in space” rate. Our customer service department gave it to her for free.

NASA then had the hard part, the part we didn’t really want to deal with — which was, how do you get something to space without using rockets or the internet?

Each NASA astronaut has a private communications page they can visit. It would be a little like a personalized web page, but one that does a whole lot more than just recommend things to you based upon other things you’ve purchased or read.

It’s the digital home and entertainment system for astronauts. They can request the media from back on Earth that they’d like: TV shows and movies (current and past), books, magazines and even local newspapers.

Two days into her International Space Station mission, the request came from NASA for a subscription to The Spokesman-Review.

With our e-edition subscription, there is an easy way to download each day’s newspaper as a PDF. That’s essentially what NASA would do each day, and then send it to McClain through her personal portal.

Like most of you, even with my journalistic roots based way more in pixels than picas, there’s still nothing quite like holding the paper each morning. It’s more than the words and photographs; it’s the way it feels as you’re holding it, the way it sounds as you turn the pages and even the smell … which goes perfectly with bacon.

But there were times back in February when we got, like, 9,600 inches of snow in three weeks that I worried about our delivery drivers. Especially because of the snow plowing and the potholes.

Snow is fun when you’re a kid. Or a skier. But not for newspaper-delivery folks.

These are the moments — you know, when you’re looking at a snow berm that’s taller than your house — that you realize that Anne McClain is an astronaut for many reasons, with intelligence being one of the biggest. And she was smart enough to know she could read her hometown newspaper digitally. Even in orbit.

There are valuable lessons there — the biggest confirming that the smartest people in the universe read their local newspaper.

The Tri-City Herald also offers digital subscriptions. For information, call 800-750-4967 or go to tri-cityherald.com/customer-service.

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