By Lisa Capobianco
All it took was one click on Twitter for Boy Scout Troop 45 of St. Paul’s Church in Southington to ultimately communicate with NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio.
The Scouts were viewing Mastracchio’s Twitter account one day when they stumbled upon a picture he posted during his six-month assignment on the International Space Station (ISS), which they watched soar over Connecticut while working on their astronomy merit badge in October. Viewing photos of landscape features that Mastracchio sees from the ISS as it circles around the world every 90 minutes, the scouts noticed that one picture posted on the astronaut’s Twitter account displayed a wide shot of Southington, Cheshire, Meriden and Wallingford.
“It’s really an amazing shot,” said Assistant Scoutmaster John Sponauer of Troop 45. “It shows you the power of social media.”
“I was really excited and surprised,” said 13-year-old Andrew Krar, Troop 45’s Senior Patrol Leader, referring to his reaction when he saw the picture posted on Mastracchio’s Twitter page. “I didn’t know Mastracchio was from Connecticut.
After the troop wrote to Mastracchio to request a larger version of the picture, the astronaut arranged for a high-resolution image to be sent through a grassroots initiative called “Fragile Oasis,” which connects astronauts living and working in space with people on Earth.
As the troop continued its communication with Fragile Oasis, the astronaut’s outreach program helped the Scouts get in contact with Lt. Robert Cizauskas of the Waterbury Police Department, who serves as supervisor of the Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL), a non-profit organization that promotes partnerships between youth, law enforcement and the community through educational, athletic and recreational activities.
Lt. Cizauskas said he first contacted Mastracchio last August through a mutual friend about keeping in touch with students while serving on the space station. Since then, Cizauskas has visited schools to give presentations about the astronaut.
He recently gave a presentation to the troop about Mastracchio, a native of Waterbury, teaching the troop not only about the astronaut’s experience on the ISS, but also about determination. During the presentation, Cizauskas shared a video that Mastracchio made for Waterbury students, telling his story of success.
“I think the message is inspiring regardless of where the students live,” said Lt. Cizauskas, adding that he often e-mails Mastracchio several times a week with questions from students.
Andrew said Mastracchio’s story was inspiring, since it took him nine years to become an astronaut.
“It was motivating for me to do better,” said Andrew, adding that he would like to join the military one day.
After the presentation, the troop submitted four questions that Lt. Cizauskas sent to Mastracchio. A few weeks later, the Scouts received their responses back from Mastracchio, who answered questions such as, “What is the best view of the world you’ve seen from the ISS” and “Do paper airplanes fly in space?” The Observer received an exclusive look at Mastracchio’s responses, as provided by Troop 45. Besides telling the troop that everything “flies” or “floats” inside the space station, Mastracchio also replied that the Caribbean is a beautiful view, as it has “the most colorful waters.”
The troop also asked Mastracchio advice on how the preparation involved in becoming an astronaut in the future.
“Find a subject that are you are interested in and study that subject in college,” replied Mastracchio in the e-mail, adding that students should study engineering, physics and other math and science related areas. “After college, once you are working in the field you can apply to become an astronaut.”
In recognition of their service to the country, the troop presented both Mastracchio and Lt. Cizauskas with neckerchiefs during a recent meeting and made them honorary members of the troop. Cizauskas plans to give the neckerchief to Mastracchio when the astronaut will visit his hometown in September. Mastracchio, who has been on the ISS since November, will return to Earth on May 14.