Astronaut Visits WCTA

Monday, October 1, former NASA astronaut and current Columbia University Professor Dr. Michael J. Massimino spoke as a guest speaker to students in the engineering program at WCTA about his journey to becoming an astronaut and the time he spent in Earth’s orbit.

On his journey to the stars, Massimino studied at Columbia University to obtain his Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering and then MIT for his Ph.D. Afterwards, Massimino was rejected by the NASA astronaut program three times before he was finally selected. Even after finally being selected, Massimino had to train for nearly six years before launching into space and achieving his life goal in 2002.

Massimino described his feeling upon seeing the exterior of the rocket as “troubling.” However, he went on to say, “I was more afraid of the shuttle’s exterior than it’s interior because you train many years for it, and once you see the familiar equipment, your nerves settle.”

Massimino explained that in space you can move equipment that weighs tons easily, but that you also have to be careful because physics still apply in space. Once you apply some force onto an object, the object has momentum and can easily get away from you. You have to be really slow with your pushes and pulls. Massimino added “you don’t feel the sensation of speed in space,” so you don’t feel like your travelling around earth at 17,500 miles per hour, nor do you feel like your being pulled back to earth by gravity.

Massimino mentioned, in the space shuttle, it takes about 90 minutes to complete one full orbit of the earth, so the sun comes up and goes down 16 times in a 24 hour period. Therefore, astronauts have “8 hours [of sleep] scheduled each day.” They each have sleep stations similar to “closets or big lockers” to attain darkness and some sense of comfortability.

After he had concluded his presentation, Massimino provided time for taking questions.

One student asked if the cameras used to take pictures in space are designed by NASA.

To which Massimino responded, “NASA does not design the cameras. We use common commercial cameras like those used on earth.” He mentioned a few camera brands that have developed great cameras that work in space: “Nikons, Canons, and 4K cameras are great.” He went on to say how effective they are at taking shots of the earth at night and at picking up light.

Another student asked about precautions to prevent bone damage.

Massimino responded saying being in space is “similar to being on bed rest [because] in space, you use none of your muscles at all.” You lose bone density and muscle mass because you’re weightless in space. “Even your heart will shrink on you.” Therefore, astronauts exercise in exotic ways everyday in space. One example of an exercise Massimino stated was the use of exercise bands to work the muscles and mimic weight lifting.

With his closing remarks, Massimino left the students with a few words of encouragement and inspiration: “You never know the outcome until you give up. If you don’t give up, there’s always a chance.”

Senior Brando Battaglia left the presentation with a “strange sense of relief.” Brando was relieved having been reassured “that it is rare that you succeed on the first try, and although you have to go back again, it will make you a stronger person having gone back.”

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