CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (NNS) -- NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy SEAL Capt. Chris Cassidy visited USS Constitution and her crew in Charlestown Navy Yard April 16.
Cassidy's visit began with a special tour of Old Ironsides conducted by Boatswain's Mate Seaman Noe Gutierrez. Cassidy was escorted through portions of the ship that are typically closed to the public and given an in-depth history of the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat.
"Touring the ship was surreal," said Cassidy. "Constitution was considered a breakthrough in ship building for her time, so I equate her launching with the launching of one of our rockets. For both occasions, there were thousands of people there to watch the launch, and it was an engineering marvel to watch both take off."
Following his tour, Cassidy conducted an all-hands call with Constitution's crew on the ship's spar deck, where he answered questions and spoke of his experiences with the Navy and NASA.
"The crew and I were honored to welcome Capt. Cassidy aboard Old Ironsides so that we could share her story with him and he in return shared his experiences as both a Navy SEAL and astronaut with us," said Cmdr. Sean D. Kearns, Constitution's 73rd commanding officer. "This visit is particularly special for me, as I served briefly with Capt. Cassidy when we were both junior officers more than 20 years ago, and have since followed his career in NASA with great interest."
Cassidy was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He now resides in York, Maine, but still claims to have strong ties to the Boston area. His visit to Charlestown Navy Yard was part of several scheduled East Coast appearances that included him visiting Boston and New York City public schools, the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, the Boston Museum of Science and the 9/11 Memorial. The appearances were organized and sponsored by Spread Positivity, a nonprofit campaign to highlight the power of real-world human interaction.
During his visit, Cassidy recalled when the Sept. 11 attacks happened, and reflected on how they affected his career and his time leading SEALS into combat.
"When 9/11 happened, I had already been in the Navy for 10 years," said Cassidy. "I felt very ready to take a SEAL platoon into war."
Cassidy was awarded the Bronze Star with combat 'V' and Presidential Unit Citation for leading a nine-day operation at the Zharwar Kili cave complex - a national priority objective directly on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, and was awarded a second Bronze Star for combat leadership service in Afghanistan in 2004.
Cassidy served ten years as a SEAL before joining NASA in May 2004. As an astronaut, Cassidy spent 16 days in space on Shuttle Mission STS-127, and 6 months on the International Space Station (ISS) on Expedition 35/36. Cassidy has completed six spacewalks, totaling 31 hours, 14 min. and accumulated 182 days in space before being appointed as Chief of Extravehicular Activity (spacewalks) and Robotics for the Astronaut Office. He was recently selected as NASA's Deputy Chief Astronaut.
During the all-hands call, Cassidy answered queries regarding his time in space, which ranged from topics like the type of food served on the spacecraft, to the reality behind the bone density loss while working in a zero gravity environment, to the working relations between American and Russian astronauts aboard the ISS.
"One of the Russian astronauts really liked our chocolate pudding," said Cassidy. "I would trade my pudding serving for their veal that I really liked."
Cassidy is one of 52 astronauts who have graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy; however he is only the second SEAL to be accepted into NASA's space program (Capt. William Shepherd was the first SEAL accepted in 1984).
"SEAL to astronaut is not a typical career path," said Cassidy. "It was meeting Capt. Shepherd that actually inspired me, and I asked myself, 'why not at least try it?' I was enjoying leading SEALs, but if it works, I'll be doing something I enjoy. If I don't get it, I'll still be doing something I like."
Prior to departing, Cassidy took some time to greet public onlookers who happened to be touring the ship during his visit and took several photos with them.
"I've never met a SEAL or an astronaut, so it was fascinating meeting someone who was one and the same," said Seaman William Collins III, a Constitution crew member. "He was very down to earth and didn't mind all of us asking questions about his time in space."
USS Constitution, the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, actively defended sea-lanes against global threats from 1797 to 1855. Now a featured destination on Boston's Freedom Trail, Constitution and her crew of U.S. Navy Sailors offer community outreach and education about the ship's history and the importance of naval seapower to more than 500,000 visitors each year. USS Constitution is scheduled to be dry docked in Charlestown Navy Yard in May 2015 for a three-year planned restoration period.
For more news and information on USS Constitution, visit www.navy.mil/local/constitution or www.facebook.com/ussconstitutionofficial.
For more news from USS Constitution, visit www.navy.mil/local/constitution/.