May 20, 2014
08:29 AM
Connecticut Today

Connecticut Astronaut Rick Mastracchio Returns; No Russia Tensions in Space

Connecticut Astronaut Rick Mastracchio Returns; No Russia Tensions in Space

Rick Mastracchio aboard the International Space Station.

Rick Mastracchio still recalls his first spacewalk with wide-eyed wonder.

“It’s an incredible, incredible thing to do,” says Mastracchio, 54, a NASA astronaut and native of Waterbury, Connecticut, who returned to Earth on May 13 after spending 188 days aboard the International Space Station. He adds, “I can remember the first time I opened the hatch on my first spacewalk and it was dark outside, we were on the dark side of the Earth, but I could see lightning storms off in the distance, these flashes of light. It was just incredible.”

During Mastracchio’s most recent six-month mission he made 3,008 orbits of the Earth, traveled more than 79.8 million miles, performed three unscheduled spacewalks, delivered the University of Connecticut’s commencement address, watched as U.S. tensions with Russia threatened the future of international space collaboration, and, along with fellow astronaut Steve Swanson, took the first selfies of the space age (Above: Swanson's selfie which was shared by Mastracchio on Twitter).

Speaking to Connecticut Magazine and other media outlets Tuesday morning from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Mastracchio said that even as Russian and U.S. relations soured on Earth, there was no coldness between him and his Russian crewmates on the space station.

“On a person-to-person basis we have a great working relationship with our Russian colleagues,” he says.

Russia recently announced that it does not plan to use the International Space Station beyond 2020. The announcement has cast the long-term future of the station, which was scheduled to operate until 2024, into doubt.

Mastracchio graduated from Waterbury’s Crosby High School in 1978; received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from UConn in 1982, a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987, and a Master of Science Degree in Physical Science from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1991.

On May 10,  Mastracchio’s previously recorded speech (below) delivered in space, was shown to UConn’s graduating class.

“I was asked to say a few words,” says Mastracchio. “I tried to make it a little entertaining to the students as well as pass on a little bit of my experience and wisdom.”

During the speech, part of which he delivered while floating upside down, he talked about how he decided he wanted to be an astronaut shortly after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and he pursued his dream with years and years of hard work.

During this mission he conducted three unscheduled spacewalks for maintenance of the space station. The first two were to remove and replace a faulty cooling pump, and the third to remove and replace a failed backup computer relay box. Though space walks are physically and mentally demanding (just preparing for the spacewalk can take up to five hours), Mastracchio says they’re one of the best parts of the job.

"Every astronaut that goes into orbit wants to perform a spacewalk,” he says.

Mastracchio’s previous three missions were each only about two weeks; however, he says readjusting to gravity after this significantly longer mission has not been too bad.

"It’s kind of like a real bad case of jet lag right now,” he says. He adds he misses sleeping in space, “Being able to sleep in a weightless environment is actually very, very comfortable.”

On his previous missions Mastracchio flew on NASA Space Shuttles, and for this mission he flew on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He says the two spacecraft provided quite different experiences.

"The Space Shuttle is a very luxurious vehicle. It comes in very much like an airplane. If you ever landed in a large airplane, you kind of know how the Space Shuttle feels. You feel a little bit heavy in the Space Shuttle but not too bad. Whereas the Soyuz capsule, just like any of the earlier U.S. capsules that came in, it’s a very rough ride. You get tossed around quite a bit and it’s a pretty hard landing. But it’s a very reliable vehicle and it got me home safe, so I really have no complaints."

 

Contact me by email eofgang@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, on Facebook and Google +

 

Connecticut Astronaut Rick Mastracchio Returns; No Russia Tensions in Space

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