RPI Students Chat With Astronaut In Orbit

Apr 18, 2014

A NASA Astronaut aboard the International Space Station spoke with students from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY live via Skype.

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio, who earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from RPI in 1987, spoke Friday with students at his alma mater. He was floating miles above the Earth.

"RPI, I hear you loud and clear! Welcome to the International Space Station," said Mastracchio.

Using Skype, Mastracchio also communicated with students from the University of Connecticut where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and with students from the university of Houston-Clear Lake where he earned a master’s in physical science.

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio talks with students via Skype aboard the International Space Station.
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

The RPI students asked questions that ranged from how Mastracchio became an astronaut, to some of his favorite experiences in outerspace.

RPI senior Chris Volk is pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering and previously interned at NASA.

"Even though you went through years of training to get into space, is there anything that surprised you when you finally got there?" asked Volk.

After a few seconds, Mastracchio’s answer came through on the video screen.

"Yes, whenever you come up here there's always something interesting and surprising," said Mastracchio. The astronaut said it was surprising how "much time you spend looking at the earth and being amazed by its beauty."

Kassandra Morales, a junior pursuing a degree in electrical engineering and a member of the NAVY ROTC program asked Mastracchio about what he’s looking forward to in the future of space exploration.

"I think the thing that makes me the most excited is the fact that we have so many opportunities in the future," said Mastracchio. He said he was excited about the commcercial companies that one day will take civilians to space, and NASA's Orion vehicle for traveling beyond low earth orbit.

Afterwards, Morales reflected on what it was like to speak to someone in space from Earth.

"It was surreal," said Morales. "It was odd because we heard UConn students speak first and it was kind of like watching TV, and then you go up there and you're speaking and you're seeing real-time responses  to people in this room from somebody from outerspace. It was crazy, I really enjoyed it."

Mastracchio answered other questions about his experience on spacewalks, experiments done in space, and traveling to the International Space Station.

Laurie Leshin, dean of the School of Science and a former NASA executive, thought giving students from across the country the chance to speak with an astronaut was a special event.

"It was really inspiring, I though it was excellent," said Leshin.

Mastracchio is currently serving on his fourth NASA shuttle mission, which is tentatively scheduled to continue through November.