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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

An Astronaut’s Spiritual Spacewalk

Did you ever have a goal as a child that you came to see as unachievable? Mike Massimino sure did. In 1969, when he was a six-year-old growing up in Long Island, New York, he watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and decided to be an astronaut. A few years later, the implausibility of that dream prompted him to give it up, especially since he was scared of heights, didn’t like the dark, and couldn’t see that well. But implausibility doesn’t always mean impossibility. Today, Mike Massimino is a retired NASA astronaut who walked in space twice, and even gained a new vision of God and heaven in the process.

After seeing the movie “The Right Stuff” in 1983, Massimino’s interest in joining the space program reignited because of the camaraderie he witnessed on-screen. During a “Christopher Closeup” interview about his Christopher Award-winning memoir “Spaceman,” he recalled the camaraderie his father experienced working as a fire inspector, who was surrounded by “the brotherhood or sisterhood at the fire department.” The higher purpose of that calling also appealed to him: “Not just going out there and trying to make money or seek fame, but trying to do something socially useful that was making the world a better place.”

Since the space program had evolved, making room for more scientists and engineers, Massimino, who would soon be graduating with his engineering degree, wondered if his old dream might still become a reality. Good fortune, hard work, and helpful advice from mentors propelled him forward and eventually led to him achieving his goal. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996, and took his first flight into space on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2002.

As exhilarating as the thought of leaving the boundaries of earth was, it also brought fear. Massimino told me, “The day you launch into space, the probability is highest that it’s going to be your last day.” In “Spaceman,” Massimino writes that in the weeks before the launch, he went from being “a decent Catholic” to “the most devout Catholic in the state of Texas.” His Italian-American relatives started showering him with religious gifts to convey the blessing of safety: “a St. Christopher medal, St. Michael medal, a picture of Padre Pio, one of Our Lady of Loreto...crucifixes, rosaries, prayer cards.” Massimino started going to Confession more often because he wanted “a clean soul.” And as a husband and father of two children, he also viewed his family with a deeper sense of love and appreciation than ever before.

Thankfully, all went well. And the view of the stars and moon and the vastness of the universe during his spacewalks had a spiritual effect. Looking at Earth from such a great distance made him compare it to “the view from heaven.”

He concluded, “As a father, as a parent, we try to provide our families with a nice home and nice environment to grow up in. When I saw our home [planet], I thought how much God the Father must love us to give us such a beautiful place to live. I really believe we are living in paradise. I can only imagine what heaven would be like, but I can’t imagine anything being more beautiful than our planet...I think it’s important for us to appreciate the sunsets, the sunrises, the birds, the animals, and our families and everything around us because there really is a lot of beauty.”

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, HOW TO DISCOVER AND CULTIVATE YOUR TALENT, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org