Rick Mastracchio completed his fourth successful trip into space yesterday. He launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, and was carrying some special cargo -- geocaching tags from the Waterbury Police Activity League and the 2014 Winter Olympic torch.
Mastracchio is pretty familiar with the ISS. In 2007, he completed three spacewalks helping to construct the space station. The astronaut grew up in Waterbury and graduated from UConn. He said he's been training for more than two years for this mission.
"Every time I go there, the space station gets bigger and bigger and more and more people," Mastracchio told reporters at a press conference. "Now I'm going there for the fourth time, but this time I'm not going there to help assemble the space station, but to live and work on board the space station. So I'm really looking forward actually spending a long period of time up there - helping to do some research, get involved in the science, and actually use the space station for what it was intended to be used for."
Mastracchio launched with two other crew members: Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mikhail Tyurin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). That brings the total crew of the ISS to nine members for the next few days.
The crew carried the 2014 Winter Olympic torch up with them. They won't light the torch onboard, as that would consume precious oxygen (and be really dangerous), but on Saturday, two Russian cosmonauts will carry the torch with them for a six-hour spacewalk while they perform maintenance on the orbiting laboratory.
Also in Mastracchio's suitcase: one "travel bug," provided to him by the students of Chase Elementary School in Waterbury. The device is a traceable dog tag used in geocaching, a popular "treasure hunting game" that teaches orienteering skills.
Ten additional Connecticut schools will monitor the bug's progress online.
Lt. Robert Cizauskas of the Waterbury Police Activity League helped get the travel bug into space. He said he hopes it inspires the children at Chase Elementary.
"I told the kids he sat in a desk, just like you're sitting," Cizauskas said. "So there's no reason that you can't do the same kind of things he's done. Or be a doctor. Or be the President of the United States, if that's what you want to do."
Mastracchio trained for two and a half years for the trip. He resides in Houston and has three kids. He told reporters he'd miss two things while in space, his family and eating toast.