Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense
Many kids in the Clear Lake area dream of a future in outer space, but for 30 year-old Christin Mastracchio, that childhood dream may become a reality very soon.
A Clear Lake native and Clear Lake High School alumna, Mastracchio knew she wanted to shoot for the stars at a young age. When she was 17 years old, her father asked her what she would pay to do for a living instead of being paid.
“I knew I loved science, math and physics. I was a cheerleader and a gymnast and grew up in awe of the space program. We moved back to Clear Lake from California specifically for the school system,” Mastracchio said.
It seemed only natural to pursue a career in the space program.
“I had read so many astronaut biographies,” she said. “I found out there were several ways to get into the Astronaut Program.”
The summer before her senior year in high school, Mastracchio was accepted into the NASA Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (SHARP) and was also a Lunar Rendezvous Princess at the Clear Lake Lunar Rendezvous Festival, which is dedicated to providing community based support, including scholarships for higher education, youth development and educational programs, funding for the arts and historical preservation in the Bay Area Houston/NASA area.
After high school, Mastracchio took the military path, going into the Astronautical Engineering Program at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“My time at the Air Force Academy literally was rocket science,” Mastracchio said. “We had to control satellites that were launched into orbit. They spin, so we had to stop the spinning and make sure the cameras or antennas were pointed where they needed to be pointed,” she said.
She then pursued and received her Masters degree in the same major from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Mastracchio also got trained as a pilot, and currently flies B-52s during nuclear deterrent exercises out of Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. She was the first female B-52 pilot in the United States when she started. “That really got me motivated!” she said.
Her practice for Test Pilot School paid off, when, as of last week, she received her letter of acceptance. Mastracchio will begin her yearlong training at Edwards Air Force Base beginning in July 2016. “I was so excited and surprised,” she said. “They had me fly a T-38, a C-12 and an ASK-21 glider. I was familiar with the T-38 because that’s an astronaut-training plane, and a C-12 is a six-seater, two-engine plane. But I had never flown a glider before! It was strange to think of a plane with NO engines!”
Apparently, everything Mastracchio did to prepare paid off. But pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut is not the only thing Mastracchio is doing.
She was featured in “Futures Magazine,” which is a military recruiting magazine for high school aged kids. She has also been a keynote speaker for the Society of Women Engineers.
“There’s this misconception about math,” Mastracchio said. “It’s actually a universal language. We’re getting better at encouraging girls in STEM subjects. If someone is having problems in math, I tell her to go back and relearn the last thing she felt comfortable with and go from there. Math builds on itself. A lot of times, it’s just a mental block.”
Mastracchio’s dream is, “17 years in the making. I want to encourage girls to get into STEM at a young age. Start out college with a technical major,” she said.
Whether or not Mastracchio becomes an astronaut is undetermined, but her accomplishments so far speak the most to her encouragement of future science, technology, engineering and math students.