Meet Mr. Space

A man on a mission to make Americans care about the solar system

(Yao Xiao)

Space isn’t what it used to be. At least, that’s the thought Mike Massimino fears is floating around the American mind. The antidote, he says, may lie with the media.

Since NASA ended the space shuttle program a couple of years ago, public interest in space has deflated, he says. Not many people know about NASA’s current programs, or the fact that now, at this very moment, there are astronauts in space. (Yes, right now.) And so Massimino is spreading the word.

He was the first astronaut to tweet from space (find him @Astro_Mike). He’s also been a recurring guest on The Big Bang Theory, regularly talks space and science on platforms across TV and radio, and, this spring, is teaching his first class at Columbia University on spaceflight. On March 14, he’ll take part in another kind of media event, one he hopes will reignite America’s interest in the great beyond.

“Live From Space” is a special two-hour event on the National Geographic Channel that will stream interviews with astronauts currently living on the International Space Station. Massimino, along with Soledad O’Brien, will host. Viewers will get an inside look at what life is like on the ISS and a peek at experiments performed in real time. CJR’s Christie Chisholm spoke with Massimino, who will help host the event from Houston, about the future of NASA and the power of broadcast.

What’s broadcast able to do for a subject like this that other media can’t? I think a lot of the public, people who aren’t close to the space program, they’re under the impression that NASA may not even have people in space anymore because the space shuttle program stopped two and half years ago. That’s not the case. So I think you reach a lot of people that might not normally read about it, or know about it, or have it in their consciousness.

Have you been involved with broadcasts like this before? I’ve done a bunch of them, actually, just with NASA. We call it “Inside the International Space Station,” or “Inside the ISS,” and we’ve done some videos of me talking, [where] I’m in the control center talking to my friends in space, trying to show what is going on. They’ve talked about different things that they’re doing and different demonstrations and I interview them from the control center. But the audience we have with that is somewhat limited, so hopefully what we’re doing here with this program is something on a larger scale where we actually have it broadcast on television as opposed to getting posted on a YouTube site. Those are kind of homemade NASA videos, whereas this is a bigger undertaking.

How challenging is it logistically to kind of pull off a broadcast like this? It’s pretty challenging for them to do this broadcast because you never really know exactly what’s going to happen in space. If they have a problem that arises, they’re not going to be worried about a TV show. So hopefully nothing like that will happen and everything goes swimmingly and we won’t be planning on an emergency spacewalk like we were back in the middle of December.

Why is a show like this important? The space station is going to be around for at least another 10 years, and we’re looking to have a new vehicle that can take people to the space station in a few years, and we’re building spaceships that can go beyond low-Earth orbit, beyond where the space station is. So I hope people learn about what’s going on in space now, on the space station, but also realize that this is still just the beginning of leaving the planet, and there’s a lot to look forward to.

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Christie Chisholm is a CJR senior editor. Follow her on Twitter at @c_chisholm.