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In Their Own Words - NASA Astronaut Rick Mastracchio
NASA Astronaut Rick Mastracchio: I had always hoped to get selected as an astronaut when I came down. I came down to Houston in 1987, and then I had been applying, ever since then, applying every year for the astronaut selection. And it took me nine years, till 1996, to finally get selected. So, I had always hoped to get selected. But, I had a great job as an engineer. So, if I didn't get selected, I was more than happy where I was.
I was always interested in space and science, and things like that. But I never really thought or even knew that you could become an astronaut. I had no clue until I saw an advertisement in a magazine when I was maybe 27 years old, 26 years old. We saw an advertisement in a magazine and I sent away for an astronaut application. And from that point on, I started to apply.
I had the opportunity to go out to Palmdale, I believe, when NASA was accepting Endeavour from the contractor. And I was actually one of the first people to sit in the Endeavour space shuttle as an engineer, and helped to verify and check out the Endeavour flight control systems before we accepted it for NASA.
Well, Endeavour was my mission, STS-118, about two-and-a-half years ago and that was my first spacewalk. And one of the things I got to do on Endeavour was, and we exit out of the space station airlock and all the spacewalks now. But I got the opportunity to translate into the Endeavour payload bay. So, I'll always remember translating down that payload bay and going into the back of Endeavour to work and remove some of the hardware from there that we were going to install on space station. It was on my first spacewalk and it was an exciting moment for me.
We had a problem. We had an 1,800-pound ammonia tank. We were trying to install this ammonia tank on the International Space Station. We bolted one of the bolts down partially, but it wouldn't drive the rest of the way. And we were having problems getting some of the other bolts to line up because the soft-dock feature would not grab. It was just resisting and it would not go down. So, we spent a good hour, hour-and-a-half, using various tools and techniques, even trying to kind of slam the tank home to get it onto its soft-dock so we could bolt it up and install it on the space station. And we tried for a long time and we just could not get it.
Eventually, I was kind of thinking in the back of my head, 'Well, I think what we're going to have to go is just release all these bolts and then try to kind of wiggle it around and get it installed.' And, of course, that's what Houston came back a little bit while, after that and they said, 'Hey guys, just remove all the bolts and let's try that.' So, as soon as we did that, we got it installed and all was well.
My first time out the airlock on a spacewalk, I opened up the thermal cover and opened up the hatch and we look outside and it was nighttime. So, which was kind of good because you're looking right down on the Earth and so I wasn't distracted by the Earth traveling below me. But it was, what was going on below was a lighting storm down below. And I could see the lightning dancing in the darkness, you know, the darkness of the Earth down below. So that was a pretty neat lightshow.
So, I'll never forget going out the hatch that first time and just seeing that lightning all over the place. That was a great experience.
You know, every spacewalk is a little different. Some spacewalks, you go out there and you really feel like, 'Wow, I really did a great job on that one. I felt good about it.' Sometimes, you come in and say, 'Wow, that one really took a lot of energy. Took a lot more out of me.' But every spacewalk is a little different. There's nothing more satisfying, though, is when you go out there and you install a piece of a space station or you swap out a busted piece of hardware with a new one and Houston calls and says, 'Hey. We tried that new piece of hardware, it's up and running.' You know, that's always a great feeling.
I think people are going to look back on the space shuttle and think it was one of the most incredible vehicles ever built by mankind. Right now, I've been saying it and I'll continue to say it, that it's the most versatile, the most capable vehicle, spaceship, ever built by mankind. And it's going to remain that for many, many, many years.
There's nothing even on the drawing books to go off and build something like the space shuttle. And I think once it's gone it's going to be one of those things where people say, 'Well, now that it's gone, we sure wish we had it back.' But, everything must come to an end, and the Space Shuttle Program had done a great job. It's been very successful, and it's time for it to end and move on to other options.
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