Guest Blog Post By Robert Cizaukas (Username: Cizzors)
This journey all began on August 29, 2013. I read a story in the Waterbury Republican American Newspaper titled, “Waterbury native to spend 6 months out of this world”. It was an interesting story about a Waterbury Public School graduate, Rick Mastracchio (Username: AstroRM) who had become an astronaut and was headed to the International Space Station (ISS) in November 2013. I had never met Mr. Mastracchio, but had previously read about his accomplishments. Later that day, I was out geocaching with my brother-in-law, Tony Jannetty (Username: DavidPuddy) working on the 31 Days of Geocaching streak when the newspaper article about Mastracchio came up in conversation. We had previously talked at length about the ISS geocache and the Travel Bug® that had been there. Tony said that he had an idea that he thought I should pursue: If I could get Mastracchio to take a Travel Bug up to the ISS, it could be an inspirational and educational opportunity for the children of Waterbury – a once in a life time experience with space travel and geography. We brainstormed what the program would look like and how we would find a way to contact Mastracchio to pitch the idea to him.
I had a lot of interest. I was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut and graduated from the public school system. Waterbury is a city that faces many of the same problems that other urban areas around the United States experience, including in its public school system. As a City of Waterbury Police Officer, I have the opportunity to currently serve as the Lieutenant in charge of the Waterbury Police Activity League (PAL). Waterbury PAL is a nonprofit organization run by police officers designed to promote partnerships between law enforcement, the community and youth through educational, recreational and athletic activities. I have used geocaching as an interesting way to engage the at-risk youth that we service.
To get in touch with Mastracchio, I began to doing online research and asked around. Through a co-worker that had gone to school with a relative of Mastracchio, I was able to get in contact with him. Mastracchio was interested in finding a new way to engage children in his mission and began emailing me directly with questions about geocaching and Travel Bugs. Finally, Mastracchio informed me that he would take the Travel Bug with him to the ISS. Mastracchio was excited to use this Travel Bug as an educational tool and had many of his own ideas on how to make this project even more exciting for the children participating in the project. I had originally planned to work with Waterbury’s Chase Elementary School on this project because Mastracchio had graduated from this elementary school and I thought this could be a truly inspirational project for the children of that school to know that through hard work anything is possible. I activated the Travel Bug (TB5JJN1) and took it to the school for pictures with the kids. I explained the project to the children and teachers and, shortly after, sent the Travel Bug to Mastracchio.
Mastracchio came up with an idea of adding 11 hitchhiker tags labeled “Exp 38” to represent Expedition 38, the mission that he was taking the Travel Bug® on. Mastracchio wanted to add 10 additional schools and give each school a hitchhiker from the Travel Bug® that had been to the ISS. I contacted additional schools about the project and visited classrooms to explain what we were planning. All of the schools quickly signed on to be part of this once in a lifetime experience.
To make this an interactive experience for the children involved, Mastracchio took pictures of the Travel Bug® along the way and posted them online for the students involved to see where the Travel Bug® had traveled and to engage them in classroom discussions about the locations and significance to space travel. Students have also been posting their own pictures and questions on the Travel Bug page. Mastracchio took the time to view the page and answer questions about NASA, Space Travel, and the ISS. Mastracchio is scheduled to launch from Russia on November 6, 2013 at approximately 11 pm ET, and I expect all of the excitement related to this project to continue for the entire six months that he is on the ISS.
Geocaching has decided to award a souvenir to anyone that attends a Geocaching in Space event on November 6th or 7th. I setup the first of over 500 Geocaching in Space Events around the world in Waterbury (GC4PEVR). These events will be an excellent way to celebrate the launch of Mastracchio and the Travel Bug®. Mastracchio commented that all of the attention the expedition was getting from geocachers is “incredible”.
An amazing and unexpected part of this project has been the notes that geocachers from around the world have posted to Mastracchio and the students on the Travel Bug® page. The students involved have been reading these posts regularly in their classrooms and have been learning about each country the geocachers are from. Many of the posts are in languages other than English, which is offering additional learning opportunities for the students as they decipher what is posted. The teachers and students have embraced this project, making cards, posters and pictures that we have posted to the Travel Bug® page for everyone to see.
From the very beginning, Tony and I envisioned that this project would be an educational opportunity for one urban school of children to learn that, through hard work and dedication, anything can be accomplished, like Mastracchio has proven. Mastracchio will use the Travel Bug® to teach the students about what he does, so it might inspire some young person to strive for something he or she never expected they might be capable of. This Travel Bug® project continues to exceed our expectations as more and more countries from around the world become involved. I am very thankful to Mastracchio, Geocaching HQ, Tony, the Waterbury Public School System, and geocachers around the world for supporting this educational effort. Everyone involved is elated in anticipation of this Travel Bug® launching to the ISS, and are extremely excited to see this epic geocaching adventure unfold.
See you on the trails……
Follow Rick Mastracchio on Twitter
Leave a message of support for Rick Mastracchio and to the students in Connecticut on the Travel Bug page – and read messages between the two.
Any other questions or comments? Ask away in the comments below!