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‘The Orbital Perspective’

Astronaut shares down-to-earth solutions for a better world.

July 25, 2013
Paul Janes-Brown - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

Air Force Col. (retir-ed) Ronald Garan Jr., a NASA astronaut and highly decorated fighter pilot, has traveled 71,075,867 miles in 2,842 orbits of Earth during more than 178 days in space.

He has also logged over 27 hours of extra-vehicular activity (EVA), more commonly known as "spacewalking."

He has flown in the Space Shuttle, the Russian Soyuz TMA Spacecraft and the International Space Station (ISS).

Article Photos

Maui from the International Space Station. Passengers on the station travel at 17,500 miles per hour, orbit the Earth every 90 minutes, and see 26 sunrises and 11 sunsets every 24 hours.

He was also an aquanaut and participated in the joint NASA-NOAA NEEMO 9 (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) mission in Aquarius, the world's only undersea research laboratory.

And, he was on Maui last week presenting a talk entitled "The Orbital Perspective" in the Maikalani building at the University of Hawai'i's Institute for Astronomy in Pukalani.

The small auditorium was packed, with attendees seated on the floor and spilling into the hallway. An additional remote site with a video feed was filled as well.

Garan, who is affable, personable and given to smiling broadly, showed a video of his preparation for space, gave a brief talk and conducted a lengthy question-and-answer session.

The video showed the preparation for and launch of the Expedition 27/28 mission to the ISS. The Soyuz TMA-21 Spacecraft, named "Gagarin" in honor of 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 4, 2011. It carried Garan along with crewmembers Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Andrei Borisenko.

Garan added his own narration to the voiced-over video, which showed some spectacular time-lapse sequences as he and his cosmonaut companions orbited the Earth.

He emphasized that from space, the Earth looks like one big country. All borders and immigration checkpoints are invisible, except for one--a striking squiggly red line that looks like an oversized super-highway. Everyone was perplexed. Garin then revealed that it is the fenced and floodlit 1,800-mile border between India and Pakistan, reputed to be one of the most dangerous borders in the world.

He believes that cultural differences are the only thing standing in the way of global collaboration. He cited the ISS, which was accomplished cooperatively by 15 countries, as a prime example of the type of open-source collaboration he espouses.

Garan is bound and determined to participate in collaborations which will end poverty, hunger, unnecessary suffering from curable diseases and water shortages. This can be accomplished by, "Connecting humanity's change makers through a universal, open-source platform, daring to change the world," he said.

Garan practices what he preaches. He founded the Manna Energy Foundation, which is bringing potable water to villages in Rwanda.

"For thousands of years, humans thought that going to the moon was impossible, simply because it had never been done," Garan said. "Human ingenuity and the determination of the human spirit proved it could be done, and it was. Nothing is impossible."

Pointing to a shot of the East Coast, Garan said, "From space, Yankee and Red Sox fans are next door neighbors."

A devout Roman Catholic, Garan said space travel has reinforced his beliefs.

Garan recommended several Websites for more information about open-source collaborations:, and

He spoke about a "Hackathon" in April that involved 83 cities in 44 countries and over 9,000 people. According to, in 83 total hours, there were 58 challenges that inspired the development of new software, construction of hardware, and creation of data visualizations that together resulted in a giant leap toward improving life on Earth and life in space. More than 750 solutions were submitted as a result.

In September in New York City, during U.N. Week, an "Ideation Jam" will be held for social good. Six to eight months later, there will be a summit during which Garan hopes to establish "an international team of people and organizations working collaboratively to build a backbone open-source platform that unifies efforts across sectors to address and respond to humanitarian needs, achieving impact with efficiency and speed."

At the conclusion of the presentation, Garan showed a photograph taken before liftoff. Each space traveler is holding a sign. Garan's says, "What kind of." Borisenko's reads, "World." And Samokutyayev's finishes with, "Do you want?"

Garan's orbital perspective is the belief in a better world, where anything is possible.



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