Former NASA Astronaut Talks Space

Collegiate Upper School students enjoyed a presentation this morning during their assembly from Columbia University mechanical engineering professor Dr. Michael Massimino, who described his passion for space and his journey to becoming a NASA astronaut.
Before introducing Dr. Massimino, Jessica Marinaccio, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Columbia, shared some facts and figures about the university with the students in attendance.

In addition to teaching in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Dr. Massimino serves as the senior advisor of space programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. 

A graduate of Columbia, Dr. Massimino talked about how his love of space began as a 6-year-old. But it wasn’t until he was in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that he first applied to be an astronaut at NASA. He was rejected from the space program three times, but remained undeterred.

“You’ve got to keep at it,” he said. 

After earning his master’s and doctorate degrees at MIT, Dr. Massimino worked as a research engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and then joined the engineering faculty at Georgia Tech. 

Still determined to be an astronaut, he applied a fourth time to NASA. This time, in 1996, he was selected as an astronaut candidate. Dr. Massimino was part of the fourth and fifth Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions, in 2002 and 2009. 

On his missions, each astronaut was allowed to bring one shirt that was special to him or her. After much thought, he decided on a Columbia University shirt because of what he learned there as an undergraduate.

“If you’re willing to work hard and not give up, good things can happen,” he said.

Dr. Massimino took multiple questions from the audience, and then left students with this advice about choosing a career path: “It’s really up to you to decide what you’re interested in. I was in my 20s when I realized I was still very interested in the space program. If that happens to you, I think you have to pursue it in some way. Whatever passion you have, you have to at least try. The only way something is impossible is if you give up.”

Afterward, Dr. Massimino and Ms. Marinaccio joined Collegiate Upper School students and faculty members for lunch in the Octagon of Sharp Academic Commons, during which more discussion took place.