Inside Rensselaer
Rensselaer Alumnus Walks in Space
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In August, Rick Mastraccio '87 became the first Rensselaer alumnus to walk in space. As a mission specialist on the space shuttle Endeavour, Mastracchio participated in three extravehicular activities, helping to install a new truss segment and replace a faulty gyroscope on the International Space Station. Endeavour's STS-118 mission was the 22nd shuttle flight to the International Space Station.

Rensselaer Alumnus Walks in Space

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Richard “Rick” Mastracchio ’87
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NASA astronaut Richard “Rick” Mastracchio ’87 became the first Rensselaer alumnus to walk in space during the successful STS-118 space shuttle mission in August.

Mastracchio spent a total of over 18 hours on three extravehicular activities (EVAs) outside of space shuttle Endeavour while it was docked with the International Space Station. With fellow astronaut Dave Williams, he successfully bolted a 5,000-pound spacer segment to the space station’s solar power truss and installed a new control moment gyro used to control the space station’s attitude.

A native of Waterbury, Conn., Mastracchio received a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer in 1987. He attended classes at Rensselaer’s Hartford campus while working as an engineer at Hamilton Standard.

After graduation, Mastracchio moved to Houston and began working for Rockwell International supporting space shuttle missions. He joined NASA in 1990 as an engineer responsible for development and validation of the space shuttle’s flight software. In 1993, he became a NASA flight controller and supported 17 space shuttle missions as guidance officer during the critical launch and landing phases of the missions.

Mastracchio was chosen as a NASA astronaut in 1996. “Astronauts have one of the best jobs, I think,” Mastracchio said in a preflight interview. “But, we’re a small part of what it takes to get the space station and space shuttle built. It’s really the thousands and thousands of folks working on the ground that make it possible. And, without them, we wouldn’t go very far.”

Based on his extensive experience as a flight controller, Mastracchio was chosen to serve as flight engineer during the ascent and entry phases of the mission. In this role, he supported Endeavour’s commander and pilot on the shuttle’s flight deck.

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Mastracchio’s spacewalks were not uneventful. At one point during the second EVA, a faulty sensor erroneously indicated a buildup of carbon dioxide in Mastracchio’s space suit. Near the end of his third spacewalk, Mastracchio noticed a small hole in one of the outer layers of his left glove, which led Mission Control to order him to return to the space station’s airlock.

In addition, a damaged heat shield tile on the shuttle led to planning for a contingency EVA, where Mastracchio would have implemented a tile repair technique that he had practiced during training. Ultimately, engineering analysis of the tile damage indicated that the repair was not necessary.

Including his first space mission on STS-106 aboard Atlantis in 2000, Mastracchio now has logged over 588 hours in space.

Including Mastracchio, three Rensselaer alumni have flown in space. The others were Jack Swigert ’65, who was the command module pilot on the Apollo 13 mission to the moon in 1970, and Dennis Tito ’64, who became the world’s first space tourist when he was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on a flight to the International Space Station in 2001. — By John Tylko

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 1, Number 3, September 13, 2007
©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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