While most of the state slept, a York native made the extraordinary journey beyond the Earth into the vastness of space — again.
Christopher Cassidy, 50, arrived at the International Space Station with Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, and when the hatch finally opened at 12:30 p.m., he was greeted by fellow Maine native Jessica Meir, who grew up in Caribou, cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka and astronaut Andrew Morgan.
Cassidy and the cosmonauts blasted off aboard the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:05 a.m. for the six-hour trip to the space station, some 254 miles above the Earth. Their arrival at the only crewed space station brings the human population in space to six.
There will be two Maine natives in space for only a brief time. Meir is scheduled to depart from the space station on April 16 along with Skripochka and Morgan. Cassidy will become Expedition 63 commander upon their departure, according to NASA.
This was Cassidy’s third spaceflight.
Cassidy, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, considers York his hometown. He graduated from York High School, where he played basketball.
After graduating from York High School, Cassidy went on to study at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1989. He then moved on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a master’s degree in ocean engineering in 2000.
Cassidy spent 11 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL, and he was deployed to Afghanistan two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He became a captain in 2014 and remains on active duty, according to NASA.
His career as an astronaut began in 2004 after he met fellow Navy SEAL and astronaut Bill Shepherd, who was commander of the first space station crew, according to the BDN archive. Cassidy was one of 11 people selected to join NASA’s 19th class of astronauts.
Cassidy’s first spaceflight was in 2009, when he left Earth aboard the space shuttle Endeavour for a 16-day mission and became the 500th person to enter space, according to NASA. His next spaceflight came in 2013, when he spent 182 days aboard the International Space Station. During his astronaut career, Cassidy has logged six spacewalks for a total of 31 hours and 14 minutes in the vacuum of space.
In 2015, Cassidy was named the nation’s chief astronaut, succeeding Robert L. Behnken. Cassidy held that post until June 2017, when he was replaced by Patrick G. Forrester and returned to normal flight status.
He is expected to remain at the space station for the next six months.