University of San Diego

05/14/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/14/2024 01:05

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USD Alumnus Matthew Dominick '05 talks about life aboard the International Space Station

Tuesday, May 14, 2024post has photospost has videoTOPICS: Academics, Alumni, COVID-19, International, University News

Drifting weightless amid a backdrop of machinery inside the Columbus module aboard the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick '05 (BA) gives an affirmation to Mission Control team members down on earth.

"Houston, this is Station. Ready. Let's do this!" a smiling Dominick says enthusiastically while his microphone floats slowly mid-air between his hands.

Dominick, an alumnus of the University of San Diego Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering and commander of NASA's SpaceX Crew-8 mission, has been aboard the ISS for more than six weeks. Dressed in khakis and a blue polo shirt embroidered with the circular dragon logo associated with the mission, Dominick seems comfortable and fully at-home inside his new orbiting domicile.

"We are crushing through experiments, which is most of what we do all day," says Dominick. "Really, this is an orbiting laboratory."

Many children dream of flying, and for Dominick, it's truly a dream-come-true.

"I get to do it all day, everyday; just to go to work. After this [interview], I have to go get a drink of water and I have to fly the whole way there through the space station."

Dominick, 42, earned a dual BS/BA degree in electrical engineering and was selected out of more than 18,300 candidates to join NASA as part of its 2017 astronaut candidate class of 12. The class also included fellow USD alumnus Jonathan (Jonny) Kim '12 (BA). In December 2020, both Dominick and Kim were revealed among 47 active astronauts chosen by NASA for the Artemis Lunar Mission Training Program.

Dominick was at home with his wife and daughters one evening setting the table for dinner when the call came in that he was one of four Artemis team members chosen for the mission. Dominick recalls the moment as truly surreal.

"I walked away and sat down in our master bathroom to take it all in," Dominick says. "I had to take that minute by myself and really ponder that 'wow, this is real and this is happening'."

From there, the work began in earnest.

"We are always in training, but it gets stepped up as you increase your tempo from doing ground jobs to [focusing] on executing the mission."

Adapting to life in orbit is no different than acclimating to any major life event, believes Dominick. It's all about establishing routines and comfort. Still, daily life aboard the ISS is far from average and no two days are alike.

"We have an incredible group of folks on the ground and around the world that plan out our days for us - it's super convenient, you wake up and there's a computer screen that tells you what to do down to the minute. Most days, I'm a laboratory technician setting up experiments for primary investigators who are coming up with things for us to do."

Along with a multitude of experiments, the core focus of research is on the astronauts themselves, say Dominick, who is currently wearing tight cuffs on his thighs to evaluate fluid shifts inside the human body. He also regularly submits to a plethora of pressure tests and ultrasounds.

"We are the experiment," Dominick says. "The more people we can get into space, the bigger the sample size we can get to understand what happens to humans when they go into space."

The mission successfully launched on Sunday, March 3 following two postponements due to inclement weather. Strapped into his seat in the flight deck of the Dragon spacecraft, Dominick and the crew prepared for launch while Mission Control began the countdown from 10. It's a movie scene often created by Hollywood, but one that only a handful of humans have experienced.

Dominick describes the moment as a "bimodal distribution of emotions."

"Managing your emotions in an operational environment has always been fascinating," he says. "That countdown is exhilarating and you are thinking 'okay, I want to remember this moment for the rest of my life' so you are focused on seeing things around you and feeling them, but also hyperfocused on the task at-hand and remembering your procedures and comms calls so you can execute safely."

As mission commander, Dominick is responsible for the safe execution of getting to the ISS and later this year, returning the crew safely to Earth. It's a role he takes seriously while also acknowledging that it takes a huge team to get a small capsule off Earth, accelerate it to 17,500 miles-an-hour and rendezvous with the ISS.

"Each of us has rules and responsibilities," he says. "Mission Control Houston and Mission Control SpaceX both work really hard to get us up here.

To Toreros everywhere, Dominick shares a simple, yet powerful message that he lives by: go do what you love.

"Go do what you are passionate about and then it will never, ever in your life feel like work. You'll also be much better at the things you love because you will work harder at them."

Dominick holds a lot of appreciation for his friends and family, who he says have made the sacrifices and contributions so that he had the opportunity to become an astronaut. When he returns home later this year, he hopes to pay some of that love forward. Orbiting the Earth 16 times per day certainly heightens one's perspective of humanity.

"Seeing the Earth from here, you realize how thin the atmosphere is and what little separation humans have from space and the fragility of our civilizations, so I want to give back and I want to go see [more of] the world. We have been orbiting over parts of the Earth that are absolutely inspirational."

- Story by Matthew Piechalak