First to Tweet from Space, Now a Professor at SEAS!

Aug 14 2014 | By Holly Evarts | Photo: Jeffrey Schifman

Mike Massimino, one of NASA’s most popular astronauts—and the first person to tweet from outer space—is now a fulltime professor of professional practice in Mechanical Engineering.

Mike Massimino

“I am really excited to start this new chapter in my life,” says Massimino, who spent almost two decades with NASA, including two space shuttle missions to service the agency's Hubble Space Telescope. “The astronaut job was a dream come true for me, I loved every minute at NASA. When it came time for me to think about leaving, I thought about what my next dream job would be and was thrilled when I got the opportunity to permanently join the Columbia Engineering faculty. I am just as excited to join the SEAS faculty as I was when I joined the Astronaut Corps.”

Massimino has spent this past academic year at the Engineering School as a visiting professor, including teaching “Introduction to Human Spaceflight.” The course focused on historical and current space programs, offered an overview of space environment needed to sustain human life and health, looked at systems integration for successful operation of a spacecraft, and included a design project that had students develop an application to help astronauts take photos of the Earth from space. Highlights included an in-class telephone call from Astronaut Mike Hopkins while he was in space on board the International Space Station, as well as guest lectures from other astronauts, engineers, and scientists from the space program.

“Mike brings an extraordinary passion for learning, discovery, and exploration to Columbia,” says Jeffrey Kysar, professor of mechanical engineering and department chair. “His enthusiasm energizes those around him and ignites his classroom. His experiences as an astronaut provide examples of the creativity and problem-solving skills that engineers use every day. We are very happy that he is putting his feet on the ground at Columbia Engineering.”

Massimino grew up on Long Island and earned his BS in industrial engineering and operations research at the School. He also holds two MS degrees, one in mechanical engineering and a second in technology and policy, and a PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT.

Selected as an astronaut by NASA in May 1996, Massimino has logged more than 570 hours in space, including 30 hours of spacewalks. His first mission was STS-109 on Space Shuttle Columbia in 2002, during which the seven-person Columbia crew successfully upgraded Hubble with a new power unit, Advanced Camera for Surveys, and solar arrays. STS-109 set a mission record for spacewalk time with 35 hours and 55 minutes over five spacewalks. Massimino performed two spacewalks during STS-109 totaling 14 hours and 46 minutes. During that flight he took a SEAS flag with him that is now displayed in Carleton Lounge in the Mudd Building.

Massimino’s second spaceflight was STS-125 on board Space Shuttle Atlantis. Massimino and his crewmates serviced and upgraded Hubble during its final servicing mission. STS-125 overtook the record set on STS-109, with 36 hours and 56 minutes over five spacewalks. His spacewalks on this mission totaled 15 hours and 58 minutes. On that flight, he took a Columbia Engineering t-shirt signed by students, faculty, and staff.

On leaving NASA, Massimino says: “It is not easy to leave a dream job and a group of colleagues who you love working with. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to start a new and exciting phase of life at Columbia and in New York City, coming back full circle to the school that gave me so much as a student. A new adventure in my life has begun.”