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Flushing students awed by astronaut

More than 100 students piled into the auditorium at PS 499, the Queens College School for Math Science and Technology, to hear a presentation and ask questions of Michael Massimino, a NASA astronaut and Long Island native. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) introduced Massimino, who had the students on the edge of their seats as he spoke to them about his training, his spacewalks upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002 and the fine art of catching M&Ms in your mouth in a zero-gravity environment. Massimino encouraged the students to work hard and go after their dreams, emphasizing that having a job that you truly love is something few people have the opportunity to do."If there's something that you like or want to do, I would pursue it with all of your heart, all of your energy," he said. Massimino took questions from students on everything from his training and preparation for space travel to lighter topics. "When they say 'Houston we have a problem,' who is Houston?" one student asked. Massimino laughed before explaining it was where one of NASA's central command centers is located. PS 499 Principal Anastasia Schneider said she was amazed at how enthralled the students were during Massimino's presentation. "Talk about kids being totally engaged," Schneider said. "I was watching them when they were sitting there and some of their mouths were just wide open." Audrey Shmuel, a science teacher at the school, said she was eager to let her students discuss what they learned after seeing them so enthusiastic about the topic. "How often do you get to talk to a real astronaut? That doesn't happen," she said. "It's rare that you get this opportunity." Massimino graduated from NASA's space academy in 1996 in the same class as Ozone Park native Charles Camarda. On his sole flight to space in 2002, he and his crew set a record for spacewalk time when they spent more than 35 hours hovering outside of their shuttle while upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope. Massimino is scheduled to return to space in September 2008. Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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