Most of us will never get to see Earth from among the stars. But on Wednesday, Nov. 2, a group of students got to do the next best thing: hear from someone who has been to space.
Former astronaut Mike Massimino, now a professor of engineering at Columbia University, visited the high school to speak about his journey to becoming an astronaut and to share some anecdotes about his time in space. The crowd was large and curious; after the presentation, a long line of students waited to ask questions.
Massimino applied to be an astronaut candidate at NASA after working as an engineer at IBM and teaching at Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. After his third rejection, he said reality started to set in.
“I knew this would be difficult, and I thought, Maybe this is not going to happen. I can control the effort, but I can’t control the outcome of what they’re going to tell me. I’m going to keep trying, but this might not work,” Massimino said.
However, after his fourth application, in 1996 Massimino was accepted, and he is a veteran of the 2002 and 2009 Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions. Massimino said that after a noisy launch, the ride up into space gets quiet and peaceful.
“You’re still strapped down, but all of the sudden there’s no pressure on you. You’re just kind of floating up. My arms just floated up very naturally,” Massimino said. “I took my helmet off and put it right in front of me; I saw Tom Hanks do this is ‘Apollo 13,’ so I did this. I floated my helmet right in front of me, and I just let go of it. And there it was, just floating right in front of me.”
Massimino was the first person to tweet from space, and his astronaut team holds a team record for the numbers of hours spacewalking in a single space shuttle mission. Massimino said that on his first space walk, he saw how beautiful Earth is from space.
“When I got to see it from the space walk, not constrained by the view of the window, I thought to myself, this must be the view from Heaven. If we could be far away from our planet and look down, this is what you would see,” Massimino said. “And then I thought to myself, nah, it’s more beautiful than that. This is what Heaven must look like. It is a paradise.”
Seeing the Earth like that reminded Massimino of how important it is to conserve our planet.
“I kind of looked around, and I didn’t see any other options of places to go. We need our planet to live and survive, and we need to take care of it, because there are no other options that we’ve found anywhere close by,” Massimino said.
If he looks a bit familiar, it may not be a coincidence. Now, Massimino appears frequently on the news and in the media. He has played a recurring role as himself on “The Big Bang Theory,” and he wrote a book about his experience in space, “Spaceman.”
Throughout his presentation, Massimino showed photos and videos of his time in space, including of his launch and an amusing clip of a colleague making a (floating) burrito.
He finished by giving some advice — to astronaut-aspirants and those with other plans — about ambitions.
“When I was your age, I had no idea how I was going to become an astronaut. I did kind of cross it off the list,” Massimino said. “And after getting my college education, I realized how dreams become true. Get the right education. And also, do not give up.”