Fifty-four years ago, six-year-old Michael Massimino was riveted to his TV as millions of Americans were, as they watched the blurry black-and-white images of a man walking on the moon. On Tuesday, approximately 1,500 industry professionals were also transfixed with admiration, this time on that now-grown man who had lifted off in 2002 and 2009 to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
Astronaut Massimino, the keynote speaker at a luncheon sponsored by SBA Communications, provided an inspirational message that dovetailed from his own safety experiences to the need for wireless workers always to be attentive to their surroundings.
He detailed an incident where he was a co-pilot in a fighter jet while going through astronaut training, and just before takeoff, the control tower issued a different flight path. The experienced pilot, however, mistakenly followed the previous heading.
Massimino said he thought that the pilot might have been following an incorrect heading but didn’t say anything due to the pilot’s many years of experience. The control tower then radioed that they should change course immediately, narrowly averting a near-air collision with another plane.
Massimino later told the pilot that he thought there was a problem, but he didn’t say anything and was admonished for not speaking out.
He said that he frequently proselytizes the importance of not being afraid to speak out immediately if you see the possibility of a dangerous condition, even if you’re wrong.
He emphasized the need for teamwork and illustrated a precarious situation when he had to replace a power supply on the Hubble Telescope during one of his spacewalks. To remove a panel secured by hundreds of screws, he first had to remove a safety handrail covering it.
It was a simple task, but he accidentally stripped the last hex bolt. Mission control immediately contacted engineers and directors throughout the country to come up with a safe remedy since the window to repair the Hubble Telescope was quickly closing.
After surgically dissecting all suggested avenues for safely removing the handrail, his mission control director informed the strapping 6’-3” tall Massimino just to rip it off, which he did.
Massimino said it’s okay to angst over a problem you’ve created but to put that aside and work with your team for a solution.
Knowing that he would provide the first Tweet from space, he had asked Neil Armstrong when did he think of his saying: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?”
Armstrong said he didn’t think about it until after he landed on the moon because if he didn’t land it, there’d be no reason to say anything.
Massimino said that Armstrong told him he was new at this and he should stick to business first and worry about all that later.
So, when he was in space at his keyboard, Massimino, because he didn’t prepare anything, said the most creativity he could muster was: “Launch was awesome! I am feeling great, working hard and enjoying the magnificent views.”
He jokingly said that his hero worship of Armstrong was severely tarnished after he gave such poor advice, especially after Saturday Night Live featured the uninspiring Tweet in a skit.
Massimmino said that although he was always cautious but somewhat at home tethered to the Hubble Telescope 350 miles up in space, he was terrified of heights. SBA Vice President Risk Management David Sams, during a Q&A, asked him if he could be persuaded to climb a cell tower. Possibly, but not likely, Massimino said.
Massimino heralded the men and women who provided the infrastructure for his Tweet and for being essential frontline workers during the COVID years when broadband proved to be the lifeline for America to be connected.