NASA Astronaut Ron Garan stopped by the bitly HQ on Friday while in NYC for the International Space Apps Challenge, a two-day hackathon where citizens from seven continents, 44 countries and 83 cities came together with the aim of making the world a better place.
Ron’s well-known not only for his work at the International Space Station (he’s traveled there twice, first in 2008 for a two-week construction mission and then again in 2011 for a six-month excursion), but as the astronaut who went viral when he started tweeting from the ISS and later answered questions about his experience as part of a few Reddit AMAs.
Ron chatted with us about the importance of international collaboration, his organizations and of course, what a day is like in space.
On international collaboration
I believe we have all the technology and resources to solve the problems we face. The primary reason why we still face so many problems relies primarily on our inabilities to collaborate on a global scale.
I believe it’s possible to live in a world without poverty, where everyone has access to clean water, where no one goes to bed hungry, where we educate all our children. I believe that the power of collaboration will fuel incredible economic growth. We’re all in this together, so the only way we can solve it is all together.
Every truly great accomplishment didn’t just seem impossible - it seemed crazy. It might seem impossible to lift the entire planet out of poverty, impossible to find cures to diseases but the point is if we can fly to the moon and fly there safely, if 15 nations can come together and build a space station, then we can do anything. Nothing is impossible.
On his projects since coming back to Earth
Fragile Oasis is an initiative that uses this perspective we have on [international collaboration] to inspire others to go out, work together, make a difference and make the world a better place.
I realized that there’s probably a lot of efforts that are trying to build universal collaboration, so the first step to do that is to collaborate with those organizations. That’s where Unity Node comes in, it’s an effort to unify those efforts from around the world. We’re trying to connect existing databases and existing groups to build a global community.
I also believe businesses have a tremendous capability to solve problems. There are a lot of groups that want to accomplish some kind of social good and do that in a financially stable manner, but even when startups get funding they can fail because they don’t have the things they need. CoImpact.co is going to be a global community of business development tools that these groups can use.
What is a day like in space?
There are 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day. It’s busy - we wake up around 6 a.m. GMT. 80 percent of the day involves picking up with experiments - we do a lot of medical research, try to make new materials, research new medicine, new forms of energy, the list goes on and on. 99.9 percent of what we do is trying to make life better on the planet.
20 percent of the day is maintenance. It does take a lot of work to maintain the space station as well.
Then we have some downtime that we can spend in the cupula taking pictures of the Earth or working out. We have to work out two hours each day to keep bone density and muscle mass, which we do through resistance machines.
A photo Ron tweeted from space when he was at the International Space Station in 2011.
Can you describe a space walk?
It is an amazing experience. I’ve done four spacewalks and logged around 27 hours total in space. The first time I went to space, I did three space walks. We have a long robotic arm that’s about 100 feet long and it locks in your feet. The first time, the arm carried me across in an arc shape about a hundred feet above the space station.
It took about 35 minutes each way. When I went there, it was nighttime and when I came back, it was day. On the way down, I shut off the lights in my suit and it was like the whole universe opened up, I could see the milky way and everything. On the way back the sun rose.
Half of my brain was saying “wow, this is incredible and beautiful,” and the other half was saying “yeah, but it’s not real.” I had nothing to compare it to, floating inside a space suit with all of infinity out there.
Where was the trade-off when you realized you shouldn’t be doing research in space and instead evangelize people about your causes?
Right now, we fly about three or four Americans a year. You stay at the space station for six months, training is two-and-a-half years, that’s a long time. When you’re done with a six-month mission, you have a six-month debrief and then you get back on line. The line is not moving very fast. The way I looked at it, I’ve flown twice and there are a whole bunch who haven’t gotten to fly once. It didn’t make sense to try and get back on that line.
I looked at it from an impact view - what am I going to do that’s going to make more of an impact? I could get in line and train for another six months in space or I could use the experience I already had to make a difference. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now.
What was your favorite experiment or research you did while in space?
From a fun point of view, we have these flying robots that were pretty cool. There are two robots that go through the air and maneuver around each other.
From a scientific point of view, we discovered a property in our research that went to be used in the vaccine for salmonella. We also did a lot of energy and combustion research and that research is leading to new ways to eliminate hazardous waste and efficiency.
We were so excited to have Ron visit us last week. If you’re interested in learning more about Ron, his career or his projects, be sure to check out our bundle here.7 months ago