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Telescopes and space missions

Telescopes and space missions

Big Bang star

27 Jul 2017 Tushna Commissariat
Taken from the July 2017 issue of Physics World

Spaceman: an Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
Mike Massimino
2017 Simon & Schuster UK 336pp £8.99pb

Mike Massimino

Remember that scene from the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory when one of the main characters, Howard Wolowitz, is gearing up to go into space and has his first Skype call with a NASA astronaut? The usual hilarity ensues, with Wolowitz’s mother shouting out his breakfast-cereal options midway through the call, which leads the astronaut to give Wolowitz the nickname “Froot Loops”. Despite using his real name in that cameo, few people realized that the astronaut in question was Michael James “Mike” Massimino – a US engineer who served as a NASA astronaut from 1996 to 2014. Probably best known in the astronomy community for the two space flights that he participated in to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, Massimino says “It’s safe to say that more people know me from [The Big Bang Theory] than anything I ever did in orbit.” Massimino has now told the story of how he ended up on the show, not to mention his long and illustrious career in space, in his new book Spaceman: an Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. Currently a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University and senior adviser of space programmes at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Massimino’s love affair with space began when, as a little boy of seven, he watched the first Moon landing. He describes meeting Neil Armstrong and refraining from telling the legendary astronaut where he was while Armstrong walked on the Moon (as everyone else was doing), but does describe this scene to the reader with painstaking detail, which suggests just how pivotal this moment was for him. Massimino may not be the most poignant of writers, but his story is captivating as is his enthusiasm. His descriptions of events are relatable (if a bit US-centric) – he compares going on his first space walk to being picked as a starting pitcher in the World Series but never actually having played the game before. Spaceman is a light and enjoyable read, and a good present for the astro-nut in your life.


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