As an astronaut, Mike Massimino SM ’88, ENG ’90, ME ’90, PhD ’92 logged over 30 hours in spacewalks—most of them while working on the Hubble Telescope. “I think it’s the greatest scientific instrument that has ever been built,” he says. “It’s a great combination of engineering accomplishment and science accomplishment.”
One of Massimino’s most memorable moments from working on the telescope required him to think on his feet—even though solid ground was nowhere near. While on STS-125, Massimino was tasked with removing a handrail from the telescope during a spacewalk. After removing a few screws from the handrail, his tool—developed specifically for the mission—began to strip the remaining screws, leaving them stuck. Massimino feared he wouldn’t be able to complete his mission.
“I knew I had a safety tether that would probably hold, but I also had a heart that I wasn’t so sure about,” he says, recalling the experience to a live audience at The Moth.
Thankfully, Massimino went into problem-solving mode and simply yanked the handrail off with force. He credits MIT for the ability to problem-solve while floating in space—tenuously connected to Space Shuttle Atlantis. “MIT shows you how to engage a complex problem,” he says.
“You’re trying to do something really complicated and lots of things are going wrong. You can’t handle everything, so you have to handle what’s really important…that’s what MIT taught me,” he says
Massimino recently shared lessons from MIT and explains how the Institute affected his choice to become an astronaut.
Astronaut Massimino’s testimonials are part of Space Shorts, a series of alumni astronaut stories, produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. Watch all videos.