Astronaut Mike Massimino is back on The Global Townhall in his new interview discussing how he handles the risk of dying in space. You can find Mike's first interview us (which offers some fantastic career advice everyone should read) here.
Gabrielle Reilly: Considering you've had so many friends die in space and you know the risk of traveling, how do you process the risk/reward of a mission? What goes through your head when you're in the most dangerous stages of your mission? Do you consider your mortality, or do you try and stay focused on the mission? How do you process it?
Mike Massimino: Well, I think I felt more about that stuff before the mission because it's kind of the reality of it. So I think once you make a decision you want to be an astronaut, because it is the greatest job in the world, you know it also comes with serious risk, but in my case it was a dream. And so I think that a dream is worth a risk, I do. And for a dream as important to me as being an astronaut and flying in space, getting a chance to represent my country in space, yeah there's going to be some risk involved but for me it was well worth it. And you know you want to make sure that you're prepared for that.
I think when we lost all of our friends on Columbia which you know we just had the 10 year anniversary. That was an interesting week for me, it was very reflective and I really thought a lot about my friends. I thought, you know I just spent a lot of time on each one of them, some more than others but some of the experiences I had with them, I hadn't thought about for a while. And a lot of memories were just coming out of the wood work. All these signs that, these memories I have of my friends were coming out so it was a pretty interesting week last week. But what had happened really kind of hit home, that this is a pretty dangerous business and it can affect your family tremendously.
So that was motivation to me to make sure as best I could, that things were in order in case something did happen. That we would try to minimize the tragedy on my family. You try to make sure things are in place and whatever needed to be taken care of was taken care of. If we did have a bad day, you know the impact would still be great on my family, but you try to minimize it, that effect on it.
So that was one thing you think about. But the thing that scared me the most was on my first flight going up to the launch pad for the very first time in the morning. Now I've gone out to the launch pad many times before. You do all dress rehearsals but when you do that the space shuttle isn't fueled. There's no fuel on the tank. So when I got out there on my launch morning for the very first time, I was near a space shuttle that was fueled. So it was making noises and it was smoking and it looked like a space ship. It looked like a beast. I was like holy crap, this might be a bad idea, what am I crazy? But at that point it was way late, you know. And there was a lot of security around us that I think probably would have shot me if I ran for it so... You know they were there to protect us but at sometimes like you know these guns can be pointed in the other direction. I better just go inside. Once I got inside I felt a lot better. And because you have a job to do and you're trained to do what you need to do, then you don't think about it at that point.
But I did think about it in going in after the accident. I flew before the accident and I wanted to fly again after. I remember kind of saying to my wife as we were saying good bye to each other as I was going to go the day before the launch... "you know this is a great opportunity for us and it's something I've always wanted to do. You know that I appreciate your support and I really see it as a great opportunity for our family." It was down in Florida and you know you get to see your family while you're in Florida for a couple of the days, while you're getting ready, you spend a little family time and you know we were kind of saying well you know I'm launching tomorrow, I'll see you in a couple weeks. It was a little emotional.
It was worth the risk and the heart ache we were going to go through. I think it's much sadder I think to go through life without something you don't' feel that passionate about. I would much rather have something that I think is so worthwhile and such a great opportunity and I'm so fortunate to get to do it, that I would put myself at risk for that. And it's a controlled risk. I mean no one's really trying to kill us. Every once in a while it might happen unexpectedly, but you know people are trying to keep you safe. And I would much rather have something that I felt that emotional about, that passionate about, as opposed to saying no, I don't want to do that because it's too risky. To me that would be unthinkable. I think you're already dead if that's the way you think. So I'm just grateful I have something that I feel that passionate about that I'm willing to take that risk.