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Touchdown!

Mike fincke 89 didnt intend to upstage anyone. Yet when he decided to attend his 15th class reunion by accepting an invitation to Technology Day 2004, he had little choice but to make a grand entrance. Thats because he arrived smack in the middle of the program via a live satellite hookup from his current home aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Though more than 8,000 kilometers from Cambridge and traveling at 27,000 kilometers per hour, Colonel Fincke arrived at 11:45 a.m. sharp and was all smiles as he engaged in a lively question-and-answer session with MIT president Charles M. Vest.

Fincke told the packed house at Kresge Auditorium that he and his crewmate, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, were currently hard at work on the Spheres (for Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) project developed by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory. Fincke and Padalka are experimenting with the projects soccer-ball-sized satellites in order to define the basic guidance laws governing them in microgravity conditions. If successful, Fincke says, these new satellites may be used as valuable robotic assistants to aid astronauts inside and outside the ISS.

One of the things that were struggling with right now is that we havent really taken a good look at the outside of our space station for about a year and a half, said Fincke. So having an autonomous robotic vehicle with camera video capability really helps us out. Its a valuable piece of equipment and an important experiment.

Though his current workload in space is extensive, Mike assured his fellow alums that it still doesnt compare to his days at MIT. He also said that his education at MIT prepared him well for the international aspect of his career.

My MIT education was the ideal preparation for working internationally, which is one of the aspects I love about my job, said Colonel Fincke. International collaborations like the ISS show what mankind is capable of when we work constructively instead of destructively.

Colonel Finckes mission began on April 18 aboard a Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan. He will spend six months on the ISS as flight engineer and NASA science officer for Expedition 9. Fincke said that his trip to space is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and that his only regret is that hell miss the birth of his second child.

To the delight of the crowd, Fincke ended the interview with a gravity-free cartwheel, which prompted a long round of applause in appreciation for his taking time out to return to MIT. – Jim Wolken

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