Michael Massimino

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Astronaut, Columbia Professor, Media Personality, Author and Inspiration for the Movie, Gravity

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Astronaut, Columbia Professor, Media Personality,
Author, and Inspiration for the Movie Gravity

Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut and the first person to tweet from space, is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University and the Senior Advisor for Space Programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. He received his Bachelor of Science from Columbia and Masters of Science in both Mechanical Engineering and in Technology and Policy, as well as his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Michael Massimino is the real-life astronaut who inspired George Clooney’s role in the film  Gravity, Michael Massimino and his crews traveled higher and faster than any other astronauts in the 21st century.


After working as an engineer at IBM, NASA, and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, along with academic appointments at both Rice University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, Mike was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996. A veteran of two space flights, the fourth and fifth Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions in 2002 and 2009, Mike has many accomplishments including a team record for the number of hours spacewalking in a single space shuttle mission. He has also received a number of awards during his NASA career including two NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, American Astronautical Society’s 2009 Flight Achievement Award, and Star of the Italian Solidarity (Italian Knighthood). He is also the holder of two patents and author of many engineering research papers.


Back at his alma mater, Columbia, Mike is teaching an undergraduate engineering course, Introduction to Human Space Flight, which harnesses his years of academic and professional experience. He is also working with The Art of Engineering, a course in which all first-year engineers attend design lectures and work on engineering projects with socially responsible themes.


Mike has made numerous television appearances including a six-time recurring role as himself on the CBS hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” He hosted Science Channel’s “The Planets” and its special “The Great American Eclipse,” and will be featured in National Geographic Television’s upcoming series “One Strange Rock.” He is a frequent guest on television news and talk show programs including NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and FoxNews. He has also appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Star Talk” radio and television shows. Mike also has an advisor and cameo role in the Netflix original series Away.


Mike’s book, Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe, has received rave reviews and is a New York Times Bestseller. He has also received a 2017 Christopher Award, the 2017 Columbia University Community Impact Outstanding Community Service Award, and the 2017 Communications Award of the National Space Club. The street that Mike grew up on in Franklin Square, NY has been renamed “Mike Massimino Street.”

Following Dreams, Setting Goals, and Never Giving Up

Mike’s dream of becoming an astronaut began when he was six years old watching television as Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon. The path to achieving this dream was wrought with unexpected challenges, failures, disappointments, and self-doubt. Mike was rejected three times by NASA including a medical disqualification which Mike overcame by teaching his eyes to “see better.” His persistence paid off with two missions on the Space Shuttle and four spacewalks on the Hubble Space Telescope. Mike stresses that as long as you keep trying no matter what the obstacles, achieving your goal is possible.

Teamwork and Leadership

Upon arriving at NASA, Mike discovered he was part of team that put the success of the team and the mission above individual accomplishments. Teamwork and leadership was developed through the extraordinary experiences that Mike and his fellow astronauts shared during their training and spaceflights. Through these experiences strong friendships and working relationships were forged that enable Mike and his colleague’s to complete astronaut training, overcome tragedy, and repair the greatest scientific instrument in space – the Hubble Space Telescope. Mike discusses how teamwork and leadership led to success during his spaceflights and in life.

Innovation and Problem Solving

Mike’s second spaceflight was the final Space Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. On that mission Mike was tasked with the most complicated spacewalk ever attempted: the in-space repair of a delicate scientific instrument inside of the telescope. A major miscue during that spacewalk nearly led to failure. But the ground control team and the astronaut’s in space worked together to come up with an innovative solution that saved the day and the mission. Mike explains how although not every problem has an obvious solution, preparation and innovation can help us overcome unforeseen challenges.

An Astronaut’s View on Planet Earth

The orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope is 350 miles above the Earth, 100 miles higher than the International Space Station. From that altitude, astronauts are able to see the curvature of our planet, and spacewalking astronauts are able to take in the magnificent views through their helmet visors with a 360 degree view of our planet and the surrounding universe. Mike describes his observations and feelings while viewing our planet, including its fragility and the importance of taking care of it.

COVID-19: Former Astronaut Shares Tips on Coping with Isolation

Over the past few months a common joke I hear from family and friends is: “Hey Mike, I bet you wish you were in space now!” As a former NASA astronaut with two space shuttle missions and four spacewalks worth of experience, I am finding that my NASA training and space flights have helped to prepare me for what we are now all going through. I am familiar with feeling separated from the Earth, sheltering in space with my crewmates, executing our mission with our ground control team back on the planet, coping with loss and tragedy, not letting fear get in the way of success, and being resilient to overcome unforeseen challenges while away from traditional support systems. When I was selected for the NASA Astronaut Class of 1996, astronauts were preparing to be sent to space for longer periods of time and increasingly challenging missions. It became apparent to NASA that this transition in space exploration was not going to be an easy one for the crew members and their families. We looked to endeavors with similar challenges, such as polar exploration, to help us prepare to engage with isolation and hardship. Some of our guidelines were: embracing the situation as best we could; concentrating on meaningful work and developing hobbies; keeping open the lines of communication between friends, family and co-workers back on Earth; enjoying the beauty of our planet; keeping a regular schedule, including an emphasis on exercise, hygiene, and health; putting the well-being of our crewmates first by being respectful and practicing good “expedition behavior” while sharing our living area; being flexible to handle unexpected challenges while away from our normal channels for help; and using time away from the hustle and bustle of our normal daily routines to think introspectively about our lives.

Commercial Space Travel and the Future of Spaceflight

With the recent SpaceX launch of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, a second golden age of space exploration has begun. In the future we can expect to see more entrepreneurial companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, exploring space not only for scientific benefit but also for profit. We are transitioning from over 50 years of human space flight programs conducted exclusively by governments, to programs that provide new opportunities for private enterprise. It is similar to air travel a century ago when airplanes were used primarily for government and military purposes, and for barnstorming. Those early years led to today’s commercial airline industry. Just imagine what the recent accomplishments can lead to in the near future: space tourism, utilization of space resources, and science and technological developments to benefit life on Earth.

All Michael Massimino Books

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
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"Thank You on behalf of all my DuPont colleagues who created, developed, and hosted the Emerging Leaders Conference. Your professionalism, sincerity, and heartfelt connection with our emerging leaders resonated beyond belief."

- | Vice President and General Manager, DuPont Safety

“As anticipated you delivered a talk that was spot on! The comments have all been on how relevant your content was to our business. Thanks for your prep and tremendous message!”

- | Manager, Business Development, Terumo Aortic

“I sincerely appreciate the obvious thoughtfulness and effort to incorporate all the points we discussed the other day. I know this is going to be a big hit at the conference. I can’t think of a better message to close our meeting. Thanks for putting this together so quickly on what I know was very short notice.” (Pre-recorded Virtual Keynote)

- | President, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement

Our leaders were inspired by your story and I believe walked away with a renewed sense of purpose and ready to focus on our new aspiration and goal. Your determination has encouraged us to think differently and be more courageous in our pursuits to impact society.

- | Pfizer

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Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
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