The voyage offered constant visual pleasures and surprises. “Sunrises and sunsets happen every 45 minutes it’s very colorful in orbit,” says Mastracchio. “You can see a whole spectrum of colors. One of the things that was really amazing was watching this beautiful blue and white marble, a remarkable contrast between the blue earth and the darkness of space.”
At the end of one of the days in orbit, the crew turned the lights off on both the space station and the space shuttle. “We were inside the shuttle, looking at the space station truss,” Mastracchio says. “There was this incredible star field behind it.”
“We’re pretty busy on orbit,” he says. “But it’s always nice to take a few minutes every once in a while to look out the window and look for places that you know, like your hometown.”
Mastracchio logged more than 588 hours in space on his two missions, traveling more than 10 million miles‚Äîand he hopes to log even more. “I hope to get another space shuttle mission assignment, but there’s probably a better chance that I would fly as a long-duration crew member on the space station,” he says. “The space station flights are marathons where you have to learn how to live in space. I do look forward to it.”
Because the International Space Station crews include Russian cosmonauts, Mastracchio plans to resume his Russian language training at the Johnson Space Center this year. “I just started dusting off my Russian books,” he says. He also will live for six weeks with a Russian family near Moscow that doesn’t speak English to further improve his language skills.
On the ground Mastracchio also is part of a team that is helping to refine concepts for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle cockpit displays, instrumentation, and overall interior layout. Before training for STS-118, he was head of the overall cockpit team at the Johnson Space Center. “Helping to design new space vehicles is a pretty darn good opportunity,” he says.
Orion is the first spacecraft being developed as part of NASA’s Constellation Program with the goal of returning humans to the lunar surface by 2019. The Orion spacecraft, which will carry up to six astronauts, will make its first manned flight in Earth orbit during 2014. It will initially support astronaut crew transfers to and from the International Space Station, but will eventually send a crew of four astronauts back to the moon.
As one of the astronauts helping to design Orion, Mastracchio hopes that he will one day have the opportunity to fly it. “NASA is going to move on to the moon and Mars, with the Constellation Program,” he says. “We’re supposed to fly the Orion in about six years. I’m not sure if I’ll still be an active astronaut, but if everything goes well, I might still be able to fly in space.”