Rick Mastracchio’s reputation may be for his work in outer space, but this week the astronaut proved to a group of Waterbury students that he is down to earth.
The Waterbury native, who attended Chase Elementary and Crosby High schools, returned to the Brass City to share his experiences at the International Space Station and demonstrate how hard work can pay off. A host of local dignitaries, teachers, police officers, relatives, and students were on hand to greet the astronaut who has become a high profile celebrity in the Brass City’s Schools.
“I love talking to the kids, I love talking about NASA,” Mastracchio said as students surrounded him. Dressed in a royal blue NASA jumpsuit adorned with patches from his space missions, Mastracchio happily greeted all who waited to speak with him, both young and old.
Even principal Matthew Calabrese was as excited as his students to have the space traveler in his school.
“He’s an inspiration to me,” Calabrese said. “The part I like is that he is very humble. But in reality, he is really very special.”
At Chase Elementary School, Mastracchio’s local connections and space travel were a launching pad to connect lessons in math, science, and English. During the last school year, students followed his travels into space and his orbits around the world, following Twitter feeds and blogs, and incorporating Mastracchio’s far-reaching explorations into all aspects of their curriculum, from science to writing. In February, students attended a special event at Waterbury’s Palace Theater with a live feed featuring Mastracchio in outer space.
Mastracchio, who graduated Crosby in 1978, studied electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and worked for Hamilton Standard in Connecticut and Rockwell Shuttle Operations Company in Texas before joining NASA as an engineer. In 1996, he was selected as an Astronaut Candidate and is now a veteran of three spaceflights, visiting space on the shuttles Atlantis, Endeavour, and Discovery. He returned from a six-month mission at the International Space Station about three months ago.
Chelsea Bibiloni, a sixth grader at Wallace Middle School, said that the chance to see Mastracchio in person was “so much fun,” because she had watched him in so many videos from outer space.
Another Wallace sixth grade student, Daniel Guerrero, said that he wants to pursue big goals in his life, just like the astronaut.
“I want to build the first spaceship that doesn’t burn or the first bridge that doesn’t break,” Guerrero said.
Mastracchio, who describes himself as shy, spent time after the assembly to meet with the former Chase students who are now at Wallace Middle School, signing autographs, answering questions, and posing for photos.
Chase teacher Andrew Luchina, who used Mastracchio in his curriculum last year and will continue to use his life story and achievements in his classroom this year, watched his former students surround the astronaut.
Mastracchio reminded the students gathered for the assembly that Chase Elementary School is actually where his space journey started.
“This is where I learned math and science − in this school,” Mastracchio told the students. “And I used all of that in space. It’s important to pay attention to your teachers, and to have fun… You can do anything you want if you work hard enough.”
Mastracchio showed his space “home movies,” as he called them, from when he first arrived at the space station, with the Olympic torch, until he left. He chronicled science experiments, space walks, life in space, interviews on live television during his mission, and finally, his return to earth.
After the film, students were able to ask questions, including “What’s a space walk like?” “How old were you when you became an astronaut?” “Is it challenging to come back into orbit again?” “How do you tell time in space?” “Were you in space on your birthday?”
The assembly closed with the students singing a special song written for the astronaut and set to the tune of “The Mickey Mouse Club House” theme, spelling Mastracchio’s last name in the lyrics.
Chase principal Matthew Calabrese told the students, “Today is a reminder to make good choices and surround yourself with good people. If you do that, you will reach your goals in life.” He added, “One day we might be sitting here listening to you speak.”