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Interactive video lesson plan for: Astronaut Ron Garan: Anyone Can Achieve an Orbital Perspective

Activity overview:

Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan recounts how he adopted a new perspective on global solidarity while serving on the International Space Station. Creating a better world, says Garan, requires a higher level of cooperation and innovation from all members of the human race. Garan's new book is The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles (


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Ron Garan: What the orbital perspective is is a slightly different way of looking at our global society and looking at our planet. It’s a perspective that takes a long term view. It’s a perspective that takes a big picture view. And when we zoom out and see our planet from space a lot of things become clear. Not only do we see where the pieces of the puzzle fit but who has them and what value they add. And I think it’s an acknowledgement that we don’t have to accept the status quo on our planet. It’s a belief that anything is possible. That we through working together can really tackle the big problems facing our planet.

So I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had a lot of perspective shifting experiences. I lived on the bottom of the ocean for three weeks in Aquarius, the only undersea laboratory. I flew once on the U.S. Space Shuttle on a two week construction mission aboard the International Space Station. And I spent about half a year, half of 2011, living and working on board the International Space Station after launching from Kazakhstan on a Russian rocket with a couple of Russian crewmates.

When it was time to depart the space station and return home my Russian crewmates and I climbed in into our Soyuz spacecraft, the same one we launched from five and a half months earlier. We wiggled into our seats, you know, we had our spacesuits on. We strapped ourselves in. It’s really tight – it’s like three guys in the back of the trunk of a car. Our knees are in our chest. We undocked from the space station and I had a window. I was sitting in the right seat. I had a window right by my head and I strained as best I could to see the space station as we were departing it because I knew quite likely that would be the last time I ever saw this magnificent sight. And after we undocked we did a couple laps around the planet and as we passed the south tip of South America we fishtailed our spacecraft around to point the engines backwards. And I remember when we did this I saw this crescent moon go by the window. It was just absolutely breathtaking.

We fired our engines just a little bit at precisely the right moment to have us enter the upper atmosphere. And as we entered the upper atmosphere we started to develop drag, you know. We had this fiery violent ride through the atmosphere. It was really amazing. Once you got down to a lower altitude the speed really becomes amazing. And I remember seeing, oh, there goes Africa as we whizzed by the continent. And the parachutes opened. They threw us all over the place. Shortly thereafter we smashed into the ground. We bounced. We flipped. We rolled over. And when we rolled over we rolled on the right side. And now my window was pointing at the ground and I remember looking out of the window and seeing a rock, a flower and a blade of grass. And I remember thinking to myself distinctly that I’m home. And what was really amazing about that thought was that I was in Kazakhstan. And so for me at that moment my home was no longer Houston, Texas, where I live with my family or Yonkers, New York, where I was born and grew up. My home was Earth and that was really a perspective shifting moment for me.

So one of the big tenets of the book and the reason why I cite and tell so many stories about people that are accomplishing amazing things that have never been in space – one of the main tenets is that you don’t have to be in orbit to have the orbital perspective. We don’t have to be in space to realize that we need each other. We don’t have to be in space to realize that by being open to new innovative partnerships, new innovative solutions, answers can come to the challenges we face from anywhere in the world. And so I think the big thing is to understand the framework that we built to view the world in. Now we live as we all know in a very, very complicated world. There’s so many horrors. There’s terrorism. There’s poverty. There’s almost a billion people that don’t have access to clean water. There’s so many ills that our global society face.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

Tagged under: Ronald J. Garan Jr. (Astronaut),astronaut,outer space,nasa,space shuttle,iss,russia,Kazakhstan (Country),Space,Orbital Perspective,Orbital Spaceflight (Rocket Function),Astronomy (Field Of Study),big ,bigthink.,lifelong learning,lesson,mentor

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