A former York High School basketball player has been named the top astronaut at NASA.
Navy Capt. Christopher Cassidy on Thursday was named chief of the Astronaut Office in Houston. He replaced Air Force Col. Robert Behnken, who had held the position at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for almost three years.
Cassidy will be responsible for managing Astronaut Office resources, operations and safety programs, according to a press release issued last week by NASA. He also will help develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts and crew assignments for future spaceflight missions.
A native of Salem, Massachusetts, Cassidy considers York his hometown and returns to Maine often. He was the commencement speaker in May at Husson University’s graduation in Bangor and was granted an honorary degree.
“You’ve been given the tools you need to succeed and are fully equipped, so be ready to be leaders,” he told graduates as he paced behind and around the podium.
During his NASA career, Cassidy completed six spacewalks and spent a total of 182 days in space.
Nearly two years ago he spoke to a thousand students at Husson. He told the students in November 2013 that he did not always want to be an astronaut. Cassidy told the students he wanted to work for the NBA, not NASA.
It wasn’t until he met fellow Navy SEAL and astronaut Bill Shepherd, who was commander of the first space station crew, that Cassidy thought about becoming an astronaut. He joined NASA in 2004.
“I really feel I’m just another Maine guy who’s had some really cool experiences in life,” he said. ” My message is to study hard and work hard, but most importantly do in life what your are passionate about, what you enjoy, because when you do that and do it well, doors open up for you. That’s when opportunity presents itself and you need to take advantage of those opportunities.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Friday congratulated Cassidy on his new job.
“In his new role, Captain Cassidy will lead our nation’s astronauts and show the children of Maine that they can literally reach for the stars,” she said. “Captain Cassidy has already had an impressive career with both the Navy and NASA, and I know Mainers will enjoy following the next step of his career.”
After attending York High School, Cassidy went to the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, according to NASA. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and a Master’s Degree in Ocean Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Cassidy was a member of the U.S. Navy SEALs for a decade before he was selected as an astronaut in 2004. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he was deployed twice to Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star for his service.
He is married and has three children.