Astronaut Talks Space with David Letterman

Astronaut Talks Space with David Letterman
Astronaut Mike Massimino and David Letterman gab about the final frontier on late night TV last week. (Image credit: CBS)

It'snot often thatastronauts hit the TV talk show circuit, but late-night host DavidLettermanwelcomed one American space man with open arms recently to discuss theend ofNASA's shuttle program and the view from space.

Lettermanquizzedveteran astronaut and Hubble Space Telescope repairman Mike Massiminoon"The Late Show with David Letterman" Wednesday in a show that camejust over a month after his own brush with space. Letterman watchedNASA'sspace shuttleAtlantis launch from Florida on its last planned mission inmid-May.

WithNASA's spaceshuttle set to retire in February and the future of NASA'smannedspaceflight in flux, Letterman asked Massimino what the future holdsforAmerica's space program.

"Forkidsinterested in becoming an astronaut, will there be a place for them tobeastronauts now?" he asked.

"Ithinkso," Massimino said. "I just can't imagine us stopping, there's noway that the country is going to let us stop exploring."

Theview fromspace

Lettermanalsowanted to know what Earth looked like from space.

"Atthe Hubblealtitude, you can see the planet in its entirety ? its curvature ? andit lookslike a big ball," Massimino told Letterman. "The thought that wentthrough my head was, 'This is something I'm not supposed to look at,it's asecret, people aren?t supposed to see this.'" [Viewsof Earth from space.]

Massiminovisitedthe space telescope in May 2009 as part of the fifth and finalservicing mission to the orbiting observatory. He hadrendered repairs andupgrades to Hubble back in 2002, but that spacewalk had been allbusiness.

Sowhen he got thechance to return to Hubble last May, he made sure to savor the moment."Mysecond spacewalk, I really had a chance to soak it in, and when I firstlooked [atEarth] I almost couldn?t stand to look . . . there are no words todescribethis beauty," the astronaut said.  

Lettermansharedhis own notion of what spacewalking and a Hubble repair job might belike. 

"Twoyearsago, I was building a tree house," Letterman said. "And periodicallyI would be, you know, hanging ? I would get my lip caught on a nail ?and Iwould think to myself this must be what it's like crawling around [inspace]."

Infurther relatinghis experience, Letterman said that in such a situation "every bit ofmuscle memory [is] gone" and "doesn?t apply when you?re outthere floating and working."

Performingdelicaterepairs on the one-of-a-kind, multimillion dollar Hubble SpaceTelescope in abulky, pressurized space suit was indeed difficult, Massimino said."It's kindof like working with boxing gloves on."

FootageofMassimino in action as well as scenes from other trips to the telescopeand thegroundbreaking discoveries this work helped to bring about wererecentlycompiled in a Hubble IMAX movie released in March.

Massiminosaid hehad to keep himself from being overcome by the splendor of this rarestofviews, and he joked with Letterman about the reason why.

"Istarted toget a little emotional, you know, and I got to catch myself, Dave,because Iwas afraid I might start to tear up," Massimino said, "and if I getsome water in my spacesuit it could cause a problem, and then there'dbe aninvestigation and I'd have to admit that I was crying."

Everonward, andupward

Duringhis downtime on last May's mission, Massimino became the first person to send Twitterposts from space. A big Mets fan, he also took home platefrom the New Yorkbaseball team's former stadium into space with him.

Whilegrowing up onLong Island, Massimino said it was the original moon landing in 1969thatinspired him to one day aim for the astronaut corps. "I was six goingon seven? and when I saw people walk on the moon ? that really grabbed me," hesaid.

"You'reverylucky," Letterman said, "because you work in an industry that's acombination of engineering and physics and something that is also veryspiritual."

Massiminoagreed,saying that "people go to work at NASA because they love it" and witha "spirit of really [being] there for a purpose."

Forhim, as an aspiringastronaut, Massimino knew what it was he hoped to do someday. "Youtrainto do all this work, but the thing you really want to see, Dave, iswhat doesit look like up there? What do the stars look like? What does the Earthlooklike?"

Nowhaving obtainedthe visual answers, Massimino had this to say in summary about ourplanet, tocheers from the audience: "It's fragile, it's beautiful, it'sperfectionand we need to take care of it."

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Adam Hadhazy
Contributing Writer

Adam Hadhazy is a contributing writer for Live Science and He often writes about physics, psychology, animal behavior and story topics in general that explore the blurring line between today's science fiction and tomorrow's science fact. Adam has a Master of Arts degree from the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. When not squeezing in reruns of Star Trek, Adam likes hurling a Frisbee or dining on spicy food. You can check out more of his work at