By Richard Weizel
STORRS Conn. (Reuters) – University of Connecticut alumnus Rick Mastracchio took a break from orbiting the globe on the International Space Station to deliver an address to students graduating from the university’s School of Engineering on Saturday.
With a large black UConn banner and UConn baseball cap floating behind him, Mastracchio hovered between two space suits and spun upside down several times during the pre-recorded address for the 400 graduates and a crowd of about 5,000 at the university.
“I could not be there with you on this big day, but being in space I was trying to figure out how to make this speech different than all the other commencement addresses that are given each year,” he said.
“And then I realized – I’m in a weightless environment. So maybe, I should give the speech in a different orientation.”
Mastracchio, 54, who is on an eight-month stint on the space station, then floated upside down, before spinning back to an upright position, bringing laughs and cheers from graduates and their families.
“I probably have the best job on and off the planet,” he said.
Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the engineering school, who set up the speech from space, said: “Many of us, faculty and students, were inspired to become engineers because of space exploration and this was a perfect way to bring more reality to our dreams.”
Mastracchio, who will return to Earth next week aboard a Russian spacecraft after completing his fourth trip into space, had a final message as he grabbed and put on the UConn baseball cap.
“Go Huskies,” he said, referring to the nickname for the school’s sports teams, as he spun upside down again.