Cassidy was selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2004, following in the footsteps of fellow MIT alum William Shepherd OCE ’78, SM ’78, first-ever commander of the International Space Station. “I’d been in the SEALs team for about four years when I met Bill Shepherd,” says Cassidy. “He was a Navy SEAL before he became an astronaut. In talking to him I realized that my background was similar to his and thought maybe I could try to become an astronaut also.” After discovering that Shepherd went to MIT and studied in the ocean engineering department, Cassidy decided to pursue his master’s in ocean engineering and went on to graduate in 2000. “It seemed to me that it made perfect sense and the stars were aligning.”
In 2009, Cassidy’s first space mission made him the 500th person in space. His second trip to space was a 2013 expedition that lasted six months and included three spacewalks and his first space selfie—a photo that became one of the best selfies of 2013 according to many news sites.
“It’s the dream job,” says Cassidy. “To get the chance to go to space is something I wish everybody could experience. The awe-inspiring feeling of looking out the window at the planet below you—it’s just this peaceful green and brown that blends into the blue ocean with white swirly clouds, there’s no borders between countries, you’re just looking down at this blue marble—it’s a moving experience.”
“Chris has served this nation admirably in the most challenging of circumstances and he will be a great leader for the astronaut corps,” says NASA’s Director of Flight Operations Brian Kelly.
Cassidy, whose daughter, Grace, is a rising senior at MIT in Course 6, is one of nearly three dozen MIT alumni astronauts including Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63, the Apollo 11 pilot for the first manned lunar landing, and Rusty Schweickart ’56, SM ’63, who piloted the Apollo 9’s first lunar module flight.
Watch a video of Chris Cassidy and other MIT alumni talking about The View of Earth from Space.