All eyes were on the stage in late March as NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio addressed the US students in the PAC and shared his experiences from his 227 days and nine walks in space. Dr. Tom Castonguay, Chair of Science Department and Director of STEM, introduced Mastracchio, and characterized his work as "leaving our planet in the pursuit of knowledge."
Jack Tulloch '17 was instrumental in securing this visit and Dr. Castonguay explained Jack's interest in space by referencing a direct quote from Jack, "Ever since I was born onto this planet, I've wanted to leave it." Jack will study aerospace engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute this fall.
Rick Mastracchio was selected as an astronaut in 1996. The Connecticut native has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from the University of Connecticut, a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Science Degree in Physical Science from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Mastracchio began his day at King with a presentation and Q&A in the PAC and then met with smaller groups of students for discussion during the remainder of the morning. He explained that he was so eager to become an astronaut that he applied each year for 9 years. NASA receives 5,000-10,000 applications per year and grants 20 interviews to choose an 8-10 person astronaut class. Rick interviewed 3 times over 9 years.
When asked why NASA goes into space, Mastracchio answered, "We're doing science. Three hundred experiments are going on at any one time. For example, we can test antibiotics to combat bacteria and superbugs." Mastracchio trained for two and a half years and needed to learn Russian. "We get trained in lots of things. Flying a spaceship is hard. Try flying a spaceship while speaking Russian! I was also trained as a dentist, as an optometrist, and as an EMT."
"Astronaut Mastracchio regaled the audience with fascinating tales about the peculiarities of life in zero gravity, where things we deem easy to do on Earth (e.g., using the restroom) are challenging in space, and tasks that are impossible to do on the ground (e.g., lifting a 200-pound mass with a pinkie finger) are effortless when performed on the ISS (International Space Station)," Dr. Castonguay continued. "A major takeaway from Astronaut Mastraccio's presentation is that space is hard, a point that was underscored when we learned about some of the engineering marvels that have made space exploration possible. As the challenges that lay ahead are quite technical and interdisciplinary in nature, it is clear that future generations of space explorers will consist of individuals who are well versed in STEM. Indeed, Rick's visit was a boon for anyone needing a reason to take math, for example."
For Pull Quotes, if needed:
"I had to go out on a space walk on Christmas Eve and pull out a malfunctioning eight hundred pound tank to replace it. A space walk is a misnomer, since you need to move hand over hand. A space walk is as hard as doing a marathon. It's very intense. You have no food and just a little water. You do have a beautiful view of the Earth."
"On weekends, we do a lot of earth observations The Earth is beautiful. You're moving so fast that when Venus rises, it looks like a rocket going by. We spend a lot of time in the Cupola that has seven large windows. Seeing the Aurora Borealis is always cool."
Returning to Earth in the Soyuz
"In a Soyuz, you're basically a big fireball. The parachutes open up and you get tossed around. You're strapped in so tight. It's like being in a dryer."
Tourist travel to space
"It's really possible that tourists will be able to go to space. It's an exciting time. Commercial companies are building ways to support travel in low earth orbit. But it will be dangerous. We have a saying at NASA that space is hard. We're very concerned about safety. We seek to learn the lessons before someone gets hurt."
Future for NASA
"NASA is planning to build three new spacecraft to explore beyond low earth orbit. We're going back to capsules that are inherently safer than winged vehicles. We also need to continue to support the International Space Station."