Inside Rensselaer
* Rensselaer Alumnus Returns to Space
Rick Mastracchio ’87, third from right, is participating in his third trip to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
Rensselaer Alumnus Returns to Space
NASA astronaut Richard “Rick” Mastracchio ’87 returned to space last week with the successful launch of space shuttle Discovery on the STS-131 mission to visit the International Space Station.

Mastracchio and fellow astronaut Clayton Anderson were scheduled to conduct three spacewalks to perform critical space station assembly tasks. These include transferring a new ammonia tank from the shuttle’s payload bay and installing it on the International Space Station.

“My primary responsibility is spacewalks,” Mastracchio said in a preflight interview. “I’m the Extra Vehicular astronaut on the three spacewalks, so my number one job is to just make sure that we have safe and successful spacewalks.”

Mastracchio also supported Discovery’s commander and pilot on the shuttle’s flight deck as the flight engineer during the April 5 launch and ascent to space.

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.

He joined NASA in 1990 as an engineer responsible for development and testing of the space shuttle’s flight software. He became a NASA flight controller in 1993, serving as guidance officer during the critical launch and landing phases of the missions.

Mastracchio was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1996. “The astronauts are just a lucky few who get to finish off that mission and actually execute it from orbit,” Mastracchio said. “So, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t realize how lucky I am to have this job.”

Prior to his current mission, Mastracchio completed two other spaceflights: STS-106 aboard Atlantis in 2000 and STS-118 aboard Endeavour in 2007. Mastracchio became the first Rensselaer alumnus to walk in space, conducting three spacewalks totaling more than 18 hours outside of the spacecraft.

Mastracchio is one of three Rensselaer alumni who have flown in space. Jack Swigert ’65 was the command module pilot on the ill-fated Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970. Dennis Tito ’64 became the world’s first civilian space traveler when he was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2001.

To read about Mastracchio’s mission aboard the Endeavour in 2007, go to metasite/news/magazine/winter2007-08/international_endeavour.html.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 7, April 16, 2010
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