Astronaut visits Pomonok school with lesson for students

NASA astronaut Mike Massimino answers questions from students during a visit to PS 200 with U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

An astronaut who had been denied entry into the space program four times before being accepted told a group of children Monday to reach for the stars during a visit to PS 200 in Pomonok.

“If there’s something that you’re interested in doing … I would encourage you to pursue it and not give up that dream,” Mike Massimino said.

Massimino was brought to the Pomonok school by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), who said he wanted the kids to learn to never give up from the astronaut.

“It’s not very often that we get a chance to meet someone who went up in space,” Weiner said to the children.

Massimino, a native of Franklin Square, L.I., said he decided he wanted to be in space when he was 6 years old after seeing the first mission to the moon.

“I pursued the dream of being an astronaut and it worked out for me,” he said.

After getting his engineering degree, Massimino tried to get into the space program at NASA, but was turned down, he said.

Massimino then said he decided that getting more advanced education would help his chances, so he went to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but was still rejected by NASA.

Two years later, after finishing graduate school, Massimino again applied at NASA but was rejected.

In another two years, Massimino got his fourth rejection while working for a NASA contractor in Houston, but got closer to his dream after getting an interview with NASA.

On his fourth attempt, Massimino was admitted into the program.

“In a lot of things, you have to stick to it,” he told the children at PS 200. “You don’t win every time. You got to keep coming back.”

Massimino also told the children about his 2009 mission to make repairs to the Hubble space telescope. The astronaut showed a video of his crew’s launch in May 2009.

“Launching into space is an incredible experience,” he said. “The feeling I had was speed and power. It’s an incredible rush of acceleration.”

The mission of Massimino and the rest of the crew included changing batteries on the telescope and installing gyroscopes — devices that detect whether the telescope is moving in the right direction.

The children laughed as Massimino showed another video of one of the crew members making a burrito in zero gravity.

Among the photos Massimino, a die-hard New York Mets fan, showed were of him wearing his Mets jersey and bringing a home plate from Shea Stadium into space, photos from Omega Centuri, a galaxy of 100,000 stars that are between 10 billion and 12 billion years old.

“The universe is really big and the Hubble telescope is helping us find out how big it is,” Massimino said.

The astronaut, who had been up in space one other time, said his most memorable moment was getting to view Earth from space.

“I really felt like I was looking into heaven,” he said. “This is just what heaven looks like. It’s paradise.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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