Mike Massimino (via Twitter as @Astro_Mike)
Veteran NASA astronaut Mike Massimino (right) poses for a photo with Big Bang Theory actor Simon Helberg and another actor during a break from filming the season finale of CBS' "Big Bang Theory."
updated 9/27/2012 12:43:27 PM ET 2012-09-27T16:43:27

Season six of CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory" kicks off Thursday night, and some of the laughs should be out of this world.

Last season's finale saw newly married aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz (played by Simon Helberg) launching toward the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, along with real-life NASA astronaut Mike Massimino and another crewmate.

Check out The Clicker on TODAY for "10 things to look forward to on 'Big Bang Theory'"

"Seriously. You will not believe tomorrow night's premiere," Helberg (@simonhelberg) wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday. "Nothing like this has been done on half hour television. Check it out!" 

The season six premiere, which airs at 8/7 Central, finds Howard aboard the orbiting lab, struggling to manage his Earthly affairs as he zips around our planet at 17,500 mph (28,160 kph). [Photos: TV's "Big Bang Theory" Geek Chic]

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For example, Howard tries to tell his domineering mother that he wants to move out and start a life with his new bride, Bernadette. This does not go over well.

"Oh, God. You are going to leave me!" his mother says in a preview clip made available by CBS. "It's OK. Your father left me, you left me; I guess I'm just the kind of person people like to leave."

"It's not definite," Howard says. "I'll talk to Bernadette."

"Don't bother," she replies. "I'll just go sit in a hole in the ground so I'm no trouble when I die."

Fans hoping to see Massimino in tonight's episode may be disappointed; his name does not appear in a recent CBS press release promoting the premiere, though several other "recurring cast" members are listed.

"The Big Bang Theory" centers on the lives of five characters: roommates and California Institute of Technology physicists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper (played by Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons, respectively); Penny (Kaley Cuoco), their pretty blonde neighbor across the hall; Caltech astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar); and Howard, who also works at the famous Pasadena university.

Howard has flown to the space station to help set up and operate an experiment he designed — not exactly standard practice. In real life, professional astronauts would be trained to do this work aboard the $100 billion orbiting complex, and Howard would remain on the ground.

While "The Big Bang Theory" is not entirely realistic, many researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and other NASA sites are apparently big fans of the science-themed show and may be tuning in tonight.

The show has a dedicated following at the NASA center, which is managed by the real-life Caltech, and the feeling may be mutual. Last month, "Big Bang Theory" producers Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to watch NASA's Mars rover Curiosity land on the Red Planet on Aug. 5.

The TV show also gave away a free trip to space during a panel at the San Diego Comic-Con this year when it handed out a ticket to ride the Lynx space plane under development by Mojave, Calif.-based XCOR Aerospace to fan Mercedes Becerra of Paso Robles, Calif. The Lynx space plane is a two-person spacecraft that will ultimately fly on suborbital spaceflights.

Follow Space.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter  @michaeldwall  or Space.com  @Spacedotcom. We're also on  Facebook  and  Google+.

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