It was in the summer of 1985 that Franklin Square’s Michael Massimino made his first visit to the Cradle of Aviation. As he walked into one of the Cradle’s hangers for the ’85 Space Fair, Massimino explained that his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut was rekindled that day, which is why he felt honored to return to the Cradle of Aviation 33 years later for his induction into the Long Island Air & Space Hall of Fame.
“It’s meaningful for me to come back here because this is where it really started,” Massimino said. “The things I learned and the people I met here put me on my path to space.”
He joined Deer Park Airport & Mid Island Air Service Founders Louis and Connie Mancuso and aviatrix and Newsday founder Alicia Patterson in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 during the Cradle of Aviations 10th Annual Luncheon on June 21.
“This year’s honorees once again represent the best of Long Island,” Andrew Parton, executive director of the Cradle of Aviation Museum, said. “They join our other inductees as great examples of individuals who had a dream to fly or travel to space and they were able to turn that dream into reality.”
Massimino dream began in 1969 as he sat glued to his black and white television and watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. He was six years old at the time, and he walked outside later that night to stare at the moon, awestruck that a human being was walking on its surface at the exact same time. Massimino’s dream of becoming an astronaut allowed him to explore science while he attended the John Street School and H. Frank Carey High School, and he went on to earn his degree in engineering from Columbia University. But despite his impressive education, becoming an astronaut still felt like an impossible dream.
After he graduated from Columbia, Massimino was in somewhat of a rut as he commuted back and forth to work from Franklin Square to Manhattan. Then one day in 1985, his mother told him about the Cradle of Aviation’s Space Fair, and Massimino went to the event. He recalled feeling that same childlike wonder as in 1969 as he learned about NASA’s space shuttle program, but what really pushed Massimino was a chance meeting with a random teenager.
“I can’t remember what his name was, but he told me everything he had done to become an astronaut and how he plotted each step in his future to make that dream come true,” Massimino said. “Here I was, 23-years-old, and this 15-year-old had it his life more thought out than me.”
Massimino decided to gamble on his dream and began volunteering at the Cradle to learn all he could about NASA. He went on to MIT to earn his Ph D in mechanical engineering, and while at MIT, he tried applying for NASA’s space program, but they rejected him three times. Massimino explained that although he felt disheartened, he just couldn’t see himself giving up.
“A buddy of mine, who I thought was a shoe-in, also kept getting rejected, and he gave up,” Massimino said. “At that moment, his chances of becoming an astronaut was zero, but I still had a chance as long as I kept at it.”
On his fourth try, NASA accepted Massimino in 1996.
Massimino left the Earth twice — in 2002 and 2009 — in order to make repairs to the Hubble Telescope. During the 2002 mission, Massimino performed two spacewalks to upgrade Hubble’s camera and solar arrays. In 2009, his team overcame frozen bolts, stripped screws and stuck handrails to upgrade the telescope’s computer and gyroscopes. Massimino went on two space walks that totaled more than 15 hours.
“Mike and his crew aboard the STS-125 [Atlantis] set a team record for total time space walk of nearly 37 hours,” Joshua Stoff, Curator at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, said.
During a public lecture at the Cradle after his induction ceremony, Massimino went on to talk about everything his experiences in space had offered him. Massimino was the first person to tweet from space, a tweet that he later found out through a phone call with his kids was made fun of on Saturday Night Live. He also made multiple appearances on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory as himself when one of the characters went on a mission to space.
In 2016, Massimino gathered all his stories and wrote the autobiography, “Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe.” Although he often appears on documentaries, talk shows and news programs to share his stories, Massimino currently serves as an engineering professor at Columbia and an advisor at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.
He said that while he was grateful for all the opportunities NASA gave him, the thing he was most thankful for was the view of the earth during one of his spacewalks. As he traveled thousands of miles per hour in space, the planet filled up his entire field of vision, and the sight was enough to move Massimino nearly to tears. He said the only thing holding back his tears was the fact that if he exposed his suit to the liquid, there would be a formal investigation conducted where he would have had to explain to his superiors that he was crying during his spacewalk.
“I honestly thought it was something too beautiful for me to see, so I turned away,” Massimino said jokingly. “Then I thought, ‘What are you doing, you idiot? Just turn around and see it.’”