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Massimino appears on "The Big Bang Theory"

By Michael He     10/18/12 7:00pm

Our whole university was in a hot dense state, then nearly 12 years ago, the Rice Space Institute started, wait. Math, science, history, Massimino's unraveling the mysteries, as he just starred on The Big Bang (Theory). 

Astronaut and Rice Space Institute Executive Director Mike Massimino found himself among the stars yet again as he played himself on The Big Bang Theory for the fourth time. 

Massimino said the television show's producers first expressed interest by contacting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C., which movie and television show assistance. 

"The writers wanted to speak with an astronaut, to [consult and to] ask questions," Massimino said. "They wanted to talk to a guy who's been to Hubble."

Massimino served aboard Space Transportation System 109 and STS 125, both service missions for the Hubble Space Telescope, he said. 

"We usually help shows that show math and science in a positive light," Massimino said. "But we don't help everybody. If the Jersey Shore people called, we'd probably tell them no."

After agreeing to help, Massimino said he traveled to the studio headquarters in Burbank, Calif. to meet with the writers. 

"I got to the building, and all these writers were sitting around a table," Massimino said. "They were more or less asking me questions, and I would be telling stories or cracking jokes. I gave them a few ideas, like the nicknames we have and that families get to talk with us while we're in space."

The writers primarily sought input on the social aspects of space flights, Massimino said. 

"They tried to make the show as realistic as possible," Massimino said. "They didn't go too much into the experiments or the science of it, but they got into the lifestyle and how it affects the family, the personal side of things."

Massimino said his involvement continued a few months later after an executive producer asked if he wished to do a cameo on the show. 

"I went out there to Skype, which was strange because the role they wrote for me was that I was myself and I was on Skype," Massimino said. "I asked why I didn't just Skype them, but they said I needed to come down. They actually built a replica of my office there. This is high-dollar stuff. They don't mess around."

Massimino returned for the May 10, Oct. 4, and Oct. 18 episodes, as his character accompanied Howard Wolowitz, portrayed by Simon Helberg, and a Russian cosmonaut to the International Space Station. 

Massimino said NASA encouraged his involvement as a way to reach out to the public. 

"With the Mars rover, there were about 3 million people watching, but 16 million people watch this TV show every week," Massimino said. "For NASA, this is a great way to get a positive message out to many more people than they could ever reach with their own public relations machine."

Massimino is still an employee of the NASA Johnson Space Center, but said he is "on loan" to Rice in an effort to build connections between the two. 

"Our overall goal is to foster a better relationship between Rice and the space program, particularly the Johnson Space Center," Massimino said. 

Hanszen College freshman Danielle Whyte said she found that Rice's connection to the show interesting. 

"I think it's cool that someone affiliated with Rice is on the show because it seems like a comedy that's appreciated by a more intellectual crowd," Whyte said. 

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