|By John Tylko
Rick Mastracchio ’87 took a giant leap in his career as a NASA astronaut in August when he added “spacewalker” to his distinguished resume. Mastracchio, who earned a master’s in electrical engineering from Rensselaer at Hartford, became the first Rensselaer alumnus to walk in space during the successful STS-118 space shuttle mission. The astronaut spent more than 18 hours on three spacewalks outside of Space Shuttle Endeavour while it was docked with the International Space Station in Earth orbit.
Mastracchio was busy with important mechanical and technical tasks during his three walks. He and fellow astronaut Dave Williams from the Canadian Space Agency successfully bolted a 5,000-pound spacer segment to the space station’s solar power truss structure during the first spacewalk. During the second walk they installed a new control moment gyro that is used to control the space station’s attitude. During a third spacewalk with astronaut Clay Anderson, Mastracchio installed communications antennas and electronic boxes outside of the space station.
The carefully coordinated and awe-inspiring spacewalks were the culmination of many years of training and hard work by Mastracchio.
In the mid-1980s, with Rensselaer degree in hand, Mastracchio began to diligently pursue the goal of becoming a NASA astronaut. “I can’t say that I always wanted to be an astronaut, but as a young boy I was always interested in math and science, especially space science, anything related to the planets, anything related to the space program,” says Mastracchio. “I was always interested in flying airplanes. And then when I graduated from college, I realized that the engineering position I had was only going to challenge me mentally. I also wanted a job that was going to challenge me physically. So, the astronaut position covers all these things very well, and it’s a great job to have.”