by Jeff Foust
|Although the book follows a tried-and-true approach to astronaut memoirs, it’s still an entertaining read about the challenges he faced before and after becoming an astronaut.|
It’s not clear why TMZ thought it worth the effort to interview Massimino (perhaps the reporter was there waiting to ambush a higher-profile celebrity), but the astronaut is a little better known than the typical former astronaut. He made a series of cameos on the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory and has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, where he gained fame for being the first astronaut to tweet from space. And based on his tweets, Massimino has been busy in the last week, traveling across the West for interviews and other appearances, and now is in the UK. (He didn’t mention his TMZ interview in his tweets, though.)
One reason Massimino has been out and about recently is that he’s promoting a new book. Spaceman is the story of his life and how he became an astronaut, flying two shuttle missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. While the book follows a tried-and-true approach to astronaut memoirs, with little desire to dig dirt or cast aspersions, it’s still an entertaining read about the challenges he faced before and after becoming an astronaut.
Massimino said he was interested in space as a kid, watching the Apollo 11 landing as a seven-year-old growing up in Long Island, where space and baseball were his twin passions. He lost interest in space as the Apollo missions ended, though, and it was only when he was in college, getting a degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University, was it rekindled by seeing The Right Stuff. That led him to MIT, where he got a doctorate, and then work on shuttle robotics for McDonnell Douglas, all the while trying to become an astronaut.
Finally becoming an astronaut in 1996 was only the beginning. He recounts the years of work that finally led to being selected for STS-109, the fourth Hubble servicing mission that flew in 2002, and then STS-125, the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission in 2009. In between was the Columbia accident, the decision to cancel that final servicing mission, and the work behind the scenes that involved Massimino, among others, to get the mission restored.
Much of the book includes familiar stories about overcoming challenges, such as when he failed his first qualifying exam for his PhD at MIT, or his eyesight that was bad enough to disqualify him in previous astronaut applications. He also emphasized the importance of teamwork, concluding his willingness to be a “team-oriented guy” was why he was ultimately selected as an astronaut. “Very few jerks have been to space,” he argues.
|“Humans will never stop going to space,” he writes in the book’s conclusion. “We’ll go because we have no choice but to go, because it’s what we’ve always done, since the day we left the caves.”|
Massimino writes that when he joined the astronaut corps in the mid-1990s, he fully expected to get to fly on five or six missions, given the pace of shuttle missions at that time. The retirement of the shuttle ended that, and he flew only those two Hubble repair missions. He discloses late in the book that, after STS-125, he was offered an opportunity to fly a long-duration mission to the International Space Station, but turned it down because he didn’t want to be away from his family for much of the two years the training for the flight would have required. “Passing on a flight is something that’s generally not done,” he wrote. And, shortly after the last shuttle mission, he was taken off active flight status, the beginning of the end of his astronaut career.
Now a professor at Columbia “training my replacements,” he has no regrets about his astronaut career, and remains confident about the future of space exploration despite the “period of transition” NASA is going through in the post-shuttle era. “Humans will never stop going to space,” he writes in the book’s conclusion. “We’ll go because we have no choice but to go, because it’s what we’ve always done, since the day we left the caves.” Even if that means TMZ comes along, too.