Mike Massimino talks historic SpaceX launch, tips to become an astronaut, and more

Legendary Astronaut Mike Massimino. Image Courtesy Discovery
Legendary Astronaut Mike Massimino. Image Courtesy Discovery /

Mike Massimino talks about the SpaceX launch with Hidden Remote

On Wednesday, May 27, families can tune in to watch the first space mission in nine years launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. It’s a historic day for everyone, and Mike Massimino talked to Hidden Remote exclusively about the launch and the lead up to the event.

The launch will air live on Discovery Channel and the Science Channel. Not only will viewers get to watch the launch, but there will also be the chance to learn more about the SpaceX program in a special event from 2 p.m. ET.

Retired astronaut Mike Massimino isn’t going up with the test crew, but he is helping to promote the historic event. He shares about the launch, what the hope is from it, and what young people can do to become an astronaut.

Hidden Remote: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. I’m sure there are many like my kids who are stoked about watching the SpaceX launch. What’s it like for you guys getting ready for this launch?

Mike Massimino: I think we’re all pretty excited about this. This is something we’ve been working on for two or three years.

When we looked into space shuttles, we knew we would need another way to get into space. We’d turn to the Russians and worked with them exclusively for nine years. But this gives us a way to launch in the U.S. again, which we haven’t been able to do. This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time and we’re really excited that it’s going to happen.

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HR: I know you’re retired, so you’re not going into space. What’s your involvement in the SpaceX launch?

Mike Massimino: You’re right, I don’t work at NASA anymore. I was involved in a little bit of maintenance. In my last few years at NASA this was getting started, but I didn’t have a part in anything particularly related to the launch.

I’m telling people about it. I’ll be part of the team with Discovery and with the Science Channel on launch day. We’re going on the air at 2 p.m. ET and we’ll stay with it right up until the launch at around 4:20 p.m. ET.

There are a few special guests involved, including Katy Perry. We’ll cover the behind-the-scenes footage to tell the story because it is an interesting relationship between NASA and SpaceX. It’s like nothing before. SpaceX has built the vehicle with some guidance from NASA. It’s the first time we’ll have NASA astronauts on a privately operated vehicle. That’s an interesting and inspirational story.

HR: This has taken a lot of preparation. Can you talk a little about that?

Mike Massimino: It started with a meeting a few years back, coming up with the requirements for what was needed from the spacecraft. SpaceX had developed a cargo ship called the Dragon, which could launch to the International Space Station with cargo, and they converted that to a crew version.

SpaceX designed the spacesuits and launchpad. The launchpad is actually the same one I used to go on the space shuttles and the same one that was used to go to the moon, but they changed it to support the new vehicle.

It’s very modern looking. The space suits are really cool, much different to anything we’ve had before. I think it’s really marked the dawning of a new age.

HR: So, lots of new training for the astronauts?

Mike Massimino: Yes, the vehicle is much different to the space shuttles, built in the 1970s. The space shuttle was very pilot- and crew-orientated when landing on the runway. Test pilots had to be able to do the landings and work all the systems.

This modern spacecraft involves a lot of automatic systems. They did demonstration flights with the spaceship without people, a lot of it involved docking in the space station autonomously. They’ve done a lot of tests without people, so now it’s time to test it with people to make sure the controls and life support systems work correctly.

HR: Is there anything that had to change with COVID-19? Was there a point you feared the launch wouldn’t happen?

Mike Massimino: No. The people working on the launch are doing it with the correct social distancing protocols. Many of the meetings were done over zoom and other meetings were done with the correcting distancing. They said they were able to continue that way.

I think the biggest impact is going to be the inability for people to gather to watch it. In the past, we had launch parties. I had hundreds of guests on my guest list who would have come to the Kennedy Space Center to watch from the viewing areas. That’s not happening now. No-one is allowed on the site.

Thousands and thousands of people would have gone to watch from the space center itself and the surrounding areas. But that doesn’t mean nobody can see it. Some press is allowed and it’s going to be shown live on TV.

HR: It’s a shame for those who were waiting to watch it. I remember being 13 and in Florida when one of the Discovery shuttles was taking off. We couldn’t watch it from the Kennedy Space Center, but my dad and I sat on a wall across the water. You could feel the vibrations before the shuttle too off. But at least we have it on the TV.

Mike Massimino: Hopefully, there will be more opportunities in the future when this one proves successful. We’re hoping for another launch in a few months, and things might be better then.

HR: What’s the aim of this mission specifically?

Mike Massimino: I think this one is all about testing the vehicle. The first demos had no crew on board to test the flight and the abort tests, making sure the emergency abort system was going to work. We needed that to be a success before we could put people on the shuttle.

This one will have two astronauts on board, and both of them have a test background. They’ll make sure the systems work correctly and will be putting the shuttle through its paces. They’ll collect the data and information, and then we should be ready to fly a larger group of astronauts.

The next flight test will take a group of astronauts to the International Space Station for six months. The flights with this vehicle then won’t be considered a test flight anymore but an operational flight.

HR: So, as I said, I have two kids who can’t wait to see the launch. My seven-year-old wanted to know what advice you would give young people like her who want to become an astronaut.

Mike Massimino: I think, for a while, being an astronaut is going to require some sort of STEM education background. That could be any area of science, engineering, math, or military occupation. I have flown with test pilots, Navy SEALs, and people who’ve worked in submarines for the military.

I’ve also worked with different types of scientists from bio chemists, physicists, astronomers, just about anything you can imagine. I’ve also flown with a geologist, who was interested in the rocks in space, an oceanographer, and a veterinarian.

So, I would say, if that’s what you’re interested in doing, then do it. Just do what you love and then apply to be an astronaut.

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The SpaceX Launch Live will start from 2 p.m. ET on Discovery Channel and Science Channel live on Wednesday, May 27.