Amy Xiong

NASA astronaut and former Chief of the Astronaut Office of NASA Christopher Cassidy visited Yale on Wednesday and Thursday to speak with various student groups about his time in space.

Invited by Yale’s Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and the Advanced Graduate Leadership Program in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, Cassidy described how he became an astronaut and his experiences aboard the International Space Station. He gave three separate talks to Yale’s Naval and Air Force ROTC programs, other undergraduates and SEAS students.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from somebody who’s currently in the field — having already gone to space and about to go to space again,” said Amanda Hansen ’20, an attendee of his talk with undergraduates. She added that Cassidy provided insightful comments about the life of an astronaut while not in space.

Before becoming an astronaut, Cassidy served in the Navy, rising to the rank of captain. His career path inspired NROTC — including Commanding Officer of Yale’s NROTC Wayne Grasdock, who had known Cassidy from the U.S. Naval Academy — to invite the astronaut to Yale, according to India June ’19, a member of NROTC at Yale.

According to Evan Haas ’19, the co-president of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association, members of the YUAA also thought it would be rewarding to speak with the celebrated astronaut. On Wednesday night at Dunham Laboratory, at the first event of this year’s YUAA Speaker Series, Cassidy spoke with students in the organization and other undergraduates interested in space.

“Our main goal for this was to get people excited about learning about what an astronaut does in real life, so meeting one — and learning about the nitty-gritty details of being an astronaut — was a really cool opportunity,” Haas said.

In his talk, Cassidy discussed how he became an astronaut, drawing inspiration from William Shepherd, who also joined NASA after serving as a Navy SEAL.

He added that he first attended the U.S. Naval Academy to help pay for college. Eventually, after meeting Shepherd, he realized that his Navy background could be suitable for working with NASA — a career path he had not previously considered.

“I had no idea that I would be wearing funny blue pajamas and going around talking to people about space,” Cassidy said, referring to his blue NASA flight suit.

Cassidy next showed a video of his time in space, providing explanations throughout. The video — infused with humorous clips of Cassidy performing daily tasks such as eating and exercising — followed his preparation in the weeks preceding takeoff, the actual launch and several research experiments while in space.

Daily life on the International Space Station was often exciting, Cassidy said.

“From the Cupola — a window in the bottom of the space station — there are amazing 360-degree views of Earth, and you can just submerge yourself in the window and see views like this: cities and rivers, oceans and deserts, clouds,” he explained.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Cassidy spoke on topics including the psychological tests performed in his NASA interviews, his thoughts on the future of the U.S. space program and artificial intelligence, and his work-life balance as an astronaut.

For Cassidy, the most rewarding part about being an astronaut is going to schools and being able to positively influence students. He added that he enjoys speaking to younger children in particular to promote interest not only in space, but more broadly in math and science.

On Thursday morning, Cassidy met with students in the Naval and Air Force ROTC programs, where he talked about his work both with NASA and in the Navy. Afterwards, he had breakfast with several students who were interested in learning more about his work, according to June.

Cassidy next held a lunch presentation for SEAS students and administrators. As in the talk with the YUAA, he delved into his experiences and presented the video of his daily life in space.

“Captain Cassidy’s talk was very interesting and I am really happy I went. It was one of the best talks I’ve seen in my entire Ph.D.,” said Aaron Morris GRD ’18, an Advanced Graduate Leadership Program fellow who attended the event. “He is a good speaker and his subject matter is about as interesting as it gets: space.”

Cassidy, who took his first space voyage in June 2009 on the NASA Space Shuttle mission STS-127, was the 500th person in history to fly into space.

Amy Xiong | amy.xiong@yale.edu