Waterbury native and UConn grad Rick Mastracchio returned to space this morning.
Mastracchio was among the crew on board a a rocket carrying the Olympic flame that successfully blasted off Thursday from earth ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.
The 53-year-old Mastracchio is a veteran of three spaceflights. Mastracchio flew as a Mission Specialist on STS-106, STS-118, and STS-131 and has logged nearly 40 days in space, including six EVAs totaling 38 hours and 30 minutes.
NASA Live TV showed the rocket, emblazoned with the pale blue Sochi 2014 logo, launching from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome on a clear morning in Kazakhstan.
The torch will make its way to the International Space Station before being taken into space itself — making it the Olympic flame’s first spacewalk in history.
Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin, NASA’s Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan beamed at the crowd as they carried the lit torch aboard the Soyuz rocket.
For safety reasons, the torch will not burn when it’s onboard the space outpost. Lighting it would consume precious oxygen and pose a threat to the crew. The crew will carry the unlit torch around the station’s numerous modules before taking it out on a spacewalk.
The Olympic torch has flown into space once before — in 1996 aboard the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis for the Atlanta Summer Olympics — but will be taken outside the spacecraft for the first time in history.
The torch will remain in space for five days. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy, who are currently manning the International Space Station, will take the flame for a spacewalk on Saturday, before it is returned to earth by three astronauts on Monday.
The torch will be used to light the Olympic flame at Sochi’s stadium on Feb. 7, marking the start of the 2014 Winter Games that run until Feb. 23.
Mastracchio is carrying a “travel bug,” a device used to mark the location of a hidden cache or container. On the space station, it will serve as a tool for students and enthusiasts to track the astronaut who is bringing it to space.
“We are going to bring up a geocache travel bug, which is basically just a small dog tag,” NASA flight engineer Rick Mastracchio said in a televised media interview. “The kids are going to follow it online and I’ll answer questions while I’m on orbit with them. It gives them a reason to follow the mission and learn about NASA.”
BIO: Born February 11, 1960 in Waterbury, Connecticut.
EDUCATION: Graduated from Crosby High School, Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1978; received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science from the University of Connecticut in 1982, a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987, and a Master of Science Degree in Physical Science from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1991.
To read Mastracchio’s full bio click here.