Waterbury NASA Astronaut Mastracchio Returns from Space Tour

By Todd Piro
|  Tuesday, May 20, 2014  |  Updated 6:43 PM EDT
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Waterbury NASA Astronaut Returns from Space Tour

AP

FILE - This Nov. 7, 2013 file photo shows U.S. astronaut Rick Mastracchio, a crew member of the International Space Station, waving prior to the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Mastracchio, along with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will serve as on-board correspondents for a National Geographic special called "Live From Space," airing Friday, March 14 at 8 p.m. EST on the National Geographic Channel. (AP Photo/Shamil Zhumatov, File)

The pride of Waterbury – astronaut Rick Mastracchio – is enjoying some literal down time after being up in space for half a year.

The 54-year-old is back on solid ground in Houston, Texas, fresh off six months at the International Space Station doing some out-of-this-world science projects and spacewalks.

“Every astronaut who goes into orbit wants to perform a spacewalk,” Mastracchio said.

Mastracchio went to high school in Waterbury and got his undergraduate degree from UConn. Joining NASA, however, was never a foregone conclusion.

“Growing up, I never knew it was even possible for me to become an astronaut until I saw an advertisement in a magazine while I was in my twenties,” he said.

That’s why Mastracchio, who delivered this year’s commencement address to the UConn School of Engineering from space, has made educating others a priority.

“I think it’s important to talk to students and kind of help them understand what we’re doing. Maybe it will help motivate them to study math and science,” he said.

And despite a business trip that entailed orbiting the earth, Mastracchio is just like the rest of us when asked what he missed most while away from home. “Seeing friends and family is number one, but the food is number two,” he commented.

Mastracchio said he expects to come back to visit Connecticut at some point in September or October.

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