Space Talk

A group of engineering students discussed questions with astronaut Rick Mastracchio '82 (ENG) at the International Space Station during a live video chat from the Charles B. Gentry Building on April 18. (Ariel Dowski '14 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

A group of engineering students discussed questions with astronaut Rick Mastracchio ’82 (ENG) at the International Space Station during a live video chat from the Charles B. Gentry Building on April 18. (Ariel Dowski ’14 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

It was a conversation they won’t soon forget.

Eight UConn School of Engineering students spent part of Friday afternoon chatting with UConn alum Rick Mastracchio ’82 (ENG), who is currently one of six astronauts stationed aboard the International Space Station.

The short question-and-answer session was broadcast live on NASA TV and streamed on the web.

A group of engineering students discussed questions with astronaut Rick Mastracchio '82 (ENG) at the International Space Station during a live video chat from the Charles B. Gentry Building on April 18. (Ariel Dowski '14 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

UConn was one of three schools from which Mastracchio earned his degrees that participated in the program. The other participating schools were the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. UConn’s portion of the event led off the program and  lasted approximately six minutes. The UConn students connected with Mastracchio via a long-distance telecom link arranged by engineers from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Mastracchio, speaking from the space station’s Destiny Laboratory, smiled and waved to the UConn students when they were introduced, before answering questions regarding the use of plants in space; his advice to others interested in becoming an astronaut; and how his perspective on life has changed since viewing Earth from orbit. Dan Burkey, associate dean for undergraduate education and diversity in the School of Engineering, moderated the session.

A group of engineering students discussed questions with astronaut Rick Mastracchio '82 (ENG) at the International Space Station during a live video chat from the Charles B. Gentry Building on April 18. (Ariel Dowski '14 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

A Waterbury, Conn. native, Mastracchio graduated from UConn in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer science. He was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996, and is currently serving as flight engineer aboard the International Space Station as part of NASA Expedition 38.

The current expedition marks Mastracchio’s fourth mission in space. Mastracchio is scheduled to make his ninth spacewalk Wednesday morning when he goes outside the space station to replace a failed backup computer relay box.

Aboard the space station since Nov. 7, 2013, Mastracchio is scheduled to return to Earth in May. He is documenting his time in space on Facebook and through his Twitter account @AstroRM.

Mastracchio will be awarded with an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the UConn School of Engineering during commencement ceremonies on May 10.