Jim  Mass 32 years ago (2)

My Friend, The Spaceman

August 09, 2016

Last month, on the 47th anniversary of the moon landing, I had the pleasure of introducing VSP Global employees to my good friend and NASA astronaut Mike Massimino.

Mike (aka Mass) and I met 36 years ago during freshman orientation at Columbia University. We were in the same group with the same advisor. As the first in my family to go to college, I was anxious to do well. Before orientation, I studied every brochure the school had sent the incoming class. I knew which rooms to go to, who would be speaking, and what materials we would need. Mass, on the other hand, just showed up and figured that he would find his way. He didn’t even bring a pen. Coincidentally, our advisor was equally unprepared. When students asked him basic questions about where to go and who to see during orientation, he gave them wrong answers. So I jumped in to correct him a few times. Afterwards, Mass came over and introduced himself and said, “I need to know you so I know where I have to go next!” We’ve been great friends ever since. He was the best man at my wedding 32 years ago and we have made every effort to stay in touch throughout the years no matter where our lives had taken us.

I asked Mass to share his journey to becoming an astronaut with the VSP team to demonstrate persistence and resilience. Mass wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, but abandoned the dream by the time he started college. He studied industrial engineering followed by robotics and human reaction with automation in grad school. Along the way, Mass’ childhood dream of being an astronaut was reignited, despite the fact that he had never flown in an airplane. He began applying to NASA:

  • First try: Mass was working on his Master’s Degree at MIT when he applied. A couple months later, he received a rejection letter.
  • Second try:  A few years later, Mass was working on his PhD at MIT and had spent the previous summers working at NASA, to increase his odds. He applied and was again rejected.
  • Third try: Mass earned his PhD and worked for a couple of years before reapplying. This time, he was invited for an interview, but was rejected again and medically disqualified for failing the vision screening portion of the application.
  • Fourth try: Mass was working as a college professor, and spent a lot of time with his optometrist leveraging contact lenses, eye training and exercises to improve his eyesight. A few years passed and he reapplied. This time, NASA said yes.

Turns out, Mass did find his way. He never lost his FOCUS and put in more work and demonstrated more dedication than the other applicants. Most people would have given up sooner. His persistence and resilience resulted in fulfilling his dream. He has logged 571 hours and 47 minutes in space. His two missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope with his teammates will allow us to enjoy spectacular images from space for many years to come. Although no longer an astronaut, Mass has gone on to do many notable things, including a stint on The Big Bang Theory. He is presently a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University. And lucky for his students, Mass is a much better advisor than the one we had 36 years ago!

I’m lucky to have Mass as one of my best friends, and hope that his story inspires you. If you want to learn more about Mass and his journey, you can preorder his new book, which goes on sale in October, named Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe.

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