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Astronaut from LI donates flag to 9/11 museum

At some point last May when the space shuttle Atlantis was logging its 5.3 million miles in orbit above the Earth, astronaut Michael Massimino took out an American flag given to him earlier by a veterans' group on Long Island and clipped it to a locker inside the spacecraft.

Then Massimino, who grew up in Franklin Square, posed with his six other crew members for a group picture, with the flag as a backdrop. Their mission was to fix the Hubble space telescope.

This Thursday, Massimino will donate the flag he took into space to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan as a tribute to the victims of the terror attack and New York City.

"I thought a good thing to do with it is give it to the City of New York," Massimino told Newsday. "It was pretty much a no-brainer for our crew."

Museum officials said that after presenting the flag, Massimino, 47, will stick around to answer questions about the space flight and his work as an astronaut. The flag, which was originally given to Massimino by a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Franklin Square, will then be part of the temporary 9/11 Memorial Preview Site at 20 Vesey St.

"The best place to give stuff so people can enjoy it is a museum," Massimino said.

The idea of the 9/11 Museum as a repository for the flag came at the suggestion of former FDNY Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano, who last month was appointed commissioner. Massimino said he queried Cassano for ideas about an appropriate place for his donation. (Massimino's father, Mario, was an FDNY member.)

The 9/11 Museum event will be part of a very active week for Massimino, who is returning to his native Long Island for a number of talks and presentations. After the ceremony in Manhattan, Massimino said he will be speaking later that day at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. Friday, he also plans to talk in the morning at the John Street Elementary School in Franklin Square and in the afternoon at his other alma mater, the H. Frank Carey High School, where he will present officials with a school varsity letter that also flew in the shuttle.

Massimino, who has been an astronaut for more than 13 years and now lives in Texas, has also made other donations of shuttle flight artifacts in recent months, including a home plate from Shea Stadium, which he returned to the Mets during a game at Citi Field last July. He also in July donated another American flag that flew in space to the NYC Fire Museum.

About Thursday's upcoming flag donation, Massimino said, "I like what I get to do in space, and it is an honor to return that flag."

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