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Greetings from space

Astronaut alumni wish MIT a happy 150th from 200 miles above.


Three MIT alumni with something unusual in common — they were on the International Space Station (ISS) together for eight days last month — co-star in a new video offering extraterrestrial congratulations on the Institute’s 150th anniversary.

Two of the three, Greg Chamitoff PhD ’92 and Mike Fincke ’89, are crewmembers on Space Shuttle Endeavour, scheduled to return to Earth today, June 1. The third, Cady Coleman ’83, spent five months on the ISS, returning to Earth May 24 in a Russian Soyuz craft.

Chamitoff — who has previously found ways of incorporating his alma mater into NASA missions — reached out earlier this year to William Litant, communications director for the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, seeking to bring astronaut alumni into the MIT150 celebration.

“There is no more enthusiastic MIT alum than astronaut Greg Chamitoff,” Litant says. “He has used both his visits to the International Space Station as an opportunity to connect with MIT."

For this mission, Litant and Chamitoff came up with two ways of commemorating MIT’s myriad contributions to space travel: the video tribute from space, and the inclusion in Endeavour’s payload of a 1961 letter written by longtime MIT professor Charles Stark Draper, whose navigational systems have guided space shuttles and the ISS.

Before settling on these ideas, Litant and Chamitoff considered several other iterations. Endeavour’s initial launch date would have had the craft back from its final mission by mid-April, so their original plan was to bring all seven crew members to campus for the MIT Open House on April 30. Then, when the launch date was moved to April 19, that plan was scuttled in favor of a video featuring Chamitoff, Fincke and Coleman.

“The T-shirts were Greg’s idea,” Litant says of the trio’s attire in the 158-second clip. “I ran over to the Coop, bought three shirts, and FedExed them to Greg in Houston just in time for him to include in his personal cargo.”

Inspiration for much of the astronauts’ commentary came from the speech given on April 10 at the 150th Convocation by David Mindell, the Frances and David Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing.

“We particularly liked David’s references to William Barton Rogers’ emphasis on learning by doing, and the importance of hands-on experiences,” Litant says, adding that the wordsmithing went down to the wire: “We were tweaking the remarks until about a day before Greg and Mike launched.”

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