Podcast: An Orbital Perspective from Astronaut Ron Garan

September 13, 2016

Imagine being in a barrel that’s going over Niagara Falls. Now imagine it being on fire.

It’s an experience impossible for most of us to grasp—but not for Colonel Ron Garan. He says that’s exactly how he felt coming back to earth after months in space at the International Space Station.

Garan is a retired fighter pilot, NASA astronaut and aquanaut, now turned activist. He spent his career traveling to the depth of the ocean and millions of miles into orbit. 

Garan has since come back to land to share what he saw and the lessons he learned. He’s issuing a call for society to have an orbital perspective about the resources supporting us all and the way we work together to protect them for a cleaner, safer planet.

He believes that, “If nations can join together to build the most complex structure ever built in space, imagine what we can accomplish by working together to overcome the challenges facing us all here on Earth.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Read an excerpt below from our latest podcast with Garan and listen to the whole conversation above. It’s out of this world.

Joe Whitworth

It’s not just space you have explored. You’ve also gone into the deep blue sea, spending some time on the world’s only undersea laboratory, The Aquarius. Was it similar or different to being in the Space Station? 

Yes. It was similar and it was different. It was similar because we were in a hostile environment where we had to depend on our life-support systems for our very survival. It was similar in that it was a small crew that had to interface with a larger team on the surface of the Earth. It was similar in that there was a certain level of danger. It was similar in that there were very important scientific objectives. One of the main things that was different about the undersea mission is that I really got to know my neighbors. I didn’t meet any neighbors on the Space Station, other than the crewmates of mine. From that point of view, it is really interesting—the difference between scuba diving on a coral reef and living in a coral reef is the fact that you become a resident of that place.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

If your definition of an activist is someone who likes action, and I don’t mean action as in excitement but action as in trying to solve problems versus just talking about the solutions to problems, then yeah—I would say that’s where my passion lies, in coordinated action towards solving some of the problems we all face together.

So, you’re really going after being a catalyst more than anything?

What dawned on my at some point was that the greatest contribution I could ever make to society would be to help other peoples’ efforts to solve problems. One of the ways we can do that is by looking for ways to work together, looking for ways to move from isolated, independent action to aligning and unifying efforts to share the same goals and objectives.

Let’s talk a little bit about Manna Energy and what you guys are doing with water in Africa.

Manna started back in 2004-2005 , and originally I started it to promote renewable energy. The more I got into that and the more I researched it, the more I saw the connection between the provision of energy and the alleviation of poverty. Then I saw other issues that energy could have an impact on—like providing clean water. 

Basically what Manna Energy has become is a social enterprise incubator, and the first effort that we incubated was a company called Manna Energy Ltd. What that company has done is created a way to provide clean water, and to do it on a huge scale and do it in a way that in a way that is financially sustainable. We are the first organization to ever earn a carbon credit through the purification of water. 

How do we get the rest of the world to look at things differently? What’s the number one thing folks working in the conservation sector and environmental community can do to get more of society to act, to understand what’s really going on with our planet?

One of the things that I have found that really limits people from making a difference is this false mindset that they really can’t make a difference—that the problems of our world are so huge, and what can one person possibly do to turn things around? I think part of that stems from this mindset that we all have to change things tomorrow and we have to change it all. We’re not responsible for changing the world tomorrow; we aren’t responsible for fixing every problem on our planet. All we are responsible for on a day-to-day basis is just making sure that we have more positive nudges on our society than negative nudges. Continually trying to create good in the world, just one small little bit at a time. Every action that we do, every decision that we make, every word that we speak has some kind of impact, over the long run, for the whole world. 

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