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Saturday, July 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rob Curley: Subscribing in space

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.

To this day, even with a recent retreat in the miles we’ll travel to deliver the daily newspaper, The Spokesman-Review still serves the largest geographic region of any of our peer newspapers across the country.

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. And not a happy one.

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.

You’ve probably heard of her, especially if you read this newspaper. There are a few things that we don’t just cover, we admittedly over-cover: Gonzaga basketball, potholes and Anne McClain.

Well, and snow plowing. Okay, and possibly TV people who run for mayor. But you get the point.

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 about $2.99 a week. 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 – and if you saw just how old the computers are in our newsroom you’d know why – 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 when they aren’t busy doing missions or walking around in space. 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. We’ve talked about this before.

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. Or at least that’s my takeaway.

Now McClain is back on Earth. She’s still doing all sorts of NASA stuff. That’s kind of how her line of work goes, cosmic commitments and all. We have a great story and interview with her in today’s paper. It’s a must-read.

It kinda got me wondering: Is she still reading The Spokesman-Review?

Well, just in case, we’ve kept her subscription going.

Welcome home, Anne. You should come visit us in the newsroom soon. We know it won’t be as exciting as the things you’ve done over the past several months, but we’ll even give you a tour to the top of our tower.

And in case you haven’t noticed, it looks kinda like a rocket. Either way, we have a feeling you’ll feel right at home at The Spokesman-Review.

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