UConn Flag Is Headed Into Space
When the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off on Friday, Sept. 8, history was made at the University of Connecticut. Astronaut Richard Mastracchio, a Waterbury native and a UConn alumnus, is carrying the flag of his alma mater on the flight.
Mastracchio, who graduated from UConn in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering, is a mission specialist for the flight. It is his first trip into space.
The Atlantis expedition includes delivering supplies to the International Space Station and making final preparations for the first inhabitants, expected later this fall. One of Mastracchio's major responsibilities is to operate the robot arm during a six-and-a-half hour space walk. He will move two crew members around the outside of the space station as they hook up electrical, communications and telemetry cables.
After being chosen for the trip, Mastracchio asked his wife, Candace, to contact UConn for ideas on how he could represent the University in space. Also, he offered a number of launch passes to UConn officials and alumni who wanted to watch the liftoff from the Kennedy Space Station in Florida. Two University representatives and a small group of alumni will be on-hand for the 8:45 a.m. launch.
For the last several months, Mastracchio's wife has been working out details and sharing information about the astronaut's preparation for the flight with John Barry, the associate director of University Communications.
"It's always rewarding when alumni, who are proud of their alma mater, want to give something back to the University. Rick is one of those alums," Barry says. "Candi has repeatedly told me Rick's heart is with UConn even though he earned his graduate degrees from two other institutions. So, we decided to make him a smaller version of our University flag, and we sent a CD with the UConn Husky fight song to NASA."
Mastracchio was asked to choose two pieces of music to be played in the morning to awaken the crew. He left that decision to his wife, and one of her selections is "Hail, Hail, UConn."
Although the Atlantis will be carrying a variety of material in its cargo area, the astronauts are allowed to travel and have ready access to two items of choice. In Mastracchio's case, one of them is the UConn flag. Upon its return to earth, the flag will be displayed at the new Lodewick Visitor's Center, which was funded largely through a gift from alumni Philip and Christine Lodewick.
Barry says efforts are underway at the University to honor the astronaut. Mastracchio and his family have been invited to Homecoming Weekend on Oct. 28-29.
Mastracchio is the second UConn alumnus to travel into space. Franklin Chang-Diaz, a 1973 UConn graduate, is a veteran astronaut with six successful flights to his credit.