Nov. 01--When NASA astronaut and Waterbury native Rick Mastracchio flies into space on Wednesday, he will take a little piece of his hometown with him.
On his fourth trip to the International Space Station, Mastracchio, 53, will bring a package of Travel Bugs, small dog tags used in geocaching, a treasure hunting game that involves searching for small caches that participants place worldwide. The caches are small weatherproof plastic boxes that contain items, such as Travel Bugs.
Waterbury's Travel Bugs are part of a geocaching project organized by the Police Activity League to help educate students about science and space.
"He was just a regular kid from Waterbury," said police Lt. Robert Cizauskas, a friend who has been working closely with Mastracchio on the project. "He went to our public schools and he was also the first one in his family to graduate from college. He's overcome a lot, coming from a town where urban challenges can sometimes work against you."
Mastracchio, who graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1982 and attended Chase Elementary and Crosby High School in Waterbury, will serve as the space station's flight engineer on the mission that launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday. Mastracchio and crew members from Japan and Russia will join six other astronauts and remain aboard the International Space Station for six months.
"An absolute inspiration -- quite honestly," Rep. Selim Noujaim of Waterbury said about Mastracchio's career with NASA. "For someone who attended Chase Elementary and Crosby High School, and went on to become an astronaut, it's just very inspiring to the entire city of Waterbury to see somebody who was born and raised here to have accomplished something only a very few people in the world have done."
Mastracchio earned a bachelor's in engineering and computer science at UConn, and graduate degrees in electrical engineering and physical science. Mastracchio worked for Hamilton Standard in Connecticut before he left for Houston to work as a NASA contractor. In 1996, Mastracchio was selected as an astronaut candidate and flew his first mission in 2000. He flew aboard two Space Shuttle missions in 2007 and 2010.
A Houston resident and the father of three children, Mastracchio regularly documents his training for his fourth trip to space on his Twitter account, which is @AstroRM. His tweets include updates and pictures of the astronaut in various locations with his Travel Bugs, allowing geocachers worldwide -- such as elementary students from Waterbury -- to track his journey.