AstroMike Evening Out of This World

Feb 27 2014 | By Melanie A. Farmer

NASA Astronaut Michael Massimino BS’84 shared personal anecdotes and career highlights as the second guest of “Engineering Icons,” the School’s new series of conversations with game changers in engineering and applied science. The February 24 event, led by Dean Mary C. Boyce and co-sponsored by IMAX Corp. and Warner Bros Pictures, capped off a celebratory week officially launching the School’s 150th anniversary. Nearly 400 guests were also treated to a special screening of the 2010 IMAX documentary, Hubble 3D, which featured Massimino and his flight crew during their riveting experience on the Hubble Telescope repair mission.

Engineering Icons: Mike Massimino Introduction

In introducing the film, Massimino said that what he enjoyed most about it is the opportunity to share how “magical” the whole space flight experience is. “It is so beautiful to see the earth and to be out there spacewalking and to see all that beauty around you,” he said. “Nothing brings back the memories like what you’re going to see here in a few minutes.”

Currently a visiting professor of mechanical engineering at the Engineering School, Massimino launched his career with NASA in 1996. He joked about the four different times he applied to NASA before ultimately being accepted as an astronaut candidate. A veteran of two space flights, Massimino has logged a total of 571 hours and 47 minutes in space, and a cumulative total of 30 hours and 5 minutes of space walking in four spacewalks. 

During the evening’s lively conversation, held at the IMAX theatre in AMC Lincoln Square, Dean Boyce and Massimino discussed his lifelong dream to join NASA and his future plans. Boyce credited Massimino for taking part, through his continuous public outreach, in motivating science and engineering among so many people. In fact, Massimino was the first to tweet from space, noted Boyce, and likely the only one on the faculty who has 1.27 million Twitter followers (@Astro_Mike). 

He described to audience members what it is really like sitting in a space shuttle right before takeoff. “When it gets down to 6 seconds, poof, you feel that rumble and what happens is the whole shuttle system lurches forward and you come back and when you come back, you’re at zero and that’s when those solid rockets light,” he explained. “I felt like some beast, some science fiction monster had grabbed me by my chest and was taking me away and there’s nothing I can do about it. The thoughts that went through my head were speed and power—speed and power.”

Taking questions from the audience, one guest asked Massimino about the future of space flight and the role people will play in it. Admitting to his own bias, he called the future of space flight “very bright,” adding that there will be more of a balance of sending out space ships without people to pave the way for follow-up explorations involving people.

When asked if he plans to go to space again, Massimino, answered, “I think I’m probably done,” explaining that during his last space mission, he felt a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. “I’m not burning to go as I was before. I think you need that … because it’s a sacrifice and a bit dangerous,” he said. “I am starting to think about what I might do next.”

For now, next remains here on Earth, at the Engineering School where Massimino is teaching a new course in space flight this spring. “Before I was an astronaut, I was a faculty member at Georgia Tech and also taught at Rice; I enjoyed speaking and teaching about what I found interesting,” said Massimino. “I love talking about what I love and sharing that with students.”

The School kicked off its “Engineering Icons” series of conversations in November with Ratan Tata of the Tata Group as the featured guest. The next “Icons” event is slated for the fall.