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Apollo 11 anniversary: NASA, NFL connections

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  • By Logan Reardon NFL.com
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One small step for a man, one giant leap for football.

It's been 50 years since man first stepped foot on the moon (July 21, 1969). In the years since, football and NASA have been linked -- as odd as that sounds. Let me explain.

January 12, 1969 -- Super Bowl III and Apollo 8

So, this actually came months before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the moon. The astronauts from Apollo 8 (William Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell) -- which was the first manned flight around the moon -- led the Pledge of Allegiance prior to the game. Anders, Borman and Lovell returned to Earth just 18 days before the game.

Leland Melvin

A wide receiver from the University of Richmond, Melvin was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL Draft. He was released by the Lions and later the Cowboys before playing a regular season game and decided it was time for a career change.

Melvin began working at NASA in 1989 and officially became an astronaut in 1998. He flew two missions on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, including November of 2009 when he honored his football career in space. He took the Super Bowl XLIV coin, along with his Lions and Cowboys jerseys, with him during the 11-day, 171-orbit mission around the Earth. Melvin brought the coin to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January of 2010 and then it was used for the coin toss at the Super Bowl that February when the Saints beat the Colts.

Space Shuttle Discovery STS-42 Mission & Super Bowl XXVI coin

In 1992, the NFL and NASA coordinated the first live downlink from Earth's orbit with the crew on board. In space, three of the astronauts demonstrated a "human coin toss" using astronaut Roberta Lynn Bondar. The Redskins beat the Bills in the game for their third Super Bowl title.

Nov. 15, 2009 -- Pittsburgh Steelers honor astronaut Mike Fincke

Fincke brought a Terrible Towel aboard as he commanded Expedition 18 on the International Space Station in 2009. He instantly became an internet sensation among Steeler Nation. The Steelers hosted and honored Fincke prior to their game vs. the Bengals that season. He presented the team with the Terrible Towel he flew in space with and the team gave him a hero's welcome.

Nov. 26, 2018 -- NASA employees celebrate Mars landing with NFL-inspired handshake

Just last Fall, we saw NASA employees acting like they just scored a game-winning touchdown. After a successful landing on NASA's InSight on Mars, engineers Brooke Harper and Gene Bonfiglio emulated a complex celebratory handshake. The handshake was inspired by 49ers receivers Marquise Goodwin and Kendrick Bourne, and NASA tweeted a video of the moment and interacted with the wideouts.

February 2019 -- Super Bowl LIII and NASA

At the Super Bowl LIVE fan event held during the week, there was a Moon to Mars exhibit for fans. The exhibit was offered by The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and Florida's Space Coast, and guests could meet astronauts, discover NASA sports spinoffs, learn about playing football on Mars and view the Mars Rover concept vehicle.

Later, NASA announced that materials they created would be used during the game -- including shock-absorbent foam for helmets and pads, as well as special materials made for spacesuits that was used in the retractable roof over Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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