Inspired by what he’s seen from the bottom of the ocean and the edge of space, Ron Garan works to make Earth a better place for all its inhabitants.
By Dell Bleekman
From his home in Yonkers, New York, Ron Garan saw few bright stars, the casualty of living in a tri-state metropolis. But on July 20, 1969, young Ron was glued to the television, as were hundreds of millions around the globe, watching history being made as the first humans landed on the moon. “I felt I was floating on my own sea of possibility,” Garan recalls, “and I knew I wanted to be an explorer who could step off the planet and look back at our world.” Four decades later, his dream came true.
After college, Garan joined the Air Force and became a fighter pilot. By the mid-’90s he was a decorated combat pilot from Desert Storm and flight instructor for the Air Force. But he had not forgotten his childhood dream, and after 26 years in the military, Garan joined NASA.
Venturing Into Space
In 2008, Garan blasted into space for the first time. “We were tasked with carrying and installing the Japanese lab for the International Space Station [ISS],” Garan recalls. Over the course of this mission, Garan completed three spacewalks. Circling Earth every 90 minutes, traveling five miles per second, witnessing a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes, Garan found space awe-inspiring.
In 2011, he took off again for a six-month stint on the ISS. “It’s a transformative experience,” Garan says of his time in space. “Being physically detached from Earth yet feeling deeply connected with everything and everyone on it allowed me to be a witness to the splendor of the world.”
Meeting a Hero
Garan met Boulder native and celebrated astronaut Scott Carpenter in 2005, when Garan was deep under the ocean conducting tests aboard the NASA underwater craft Aquarius. “Carpenter was the first person in the world to become both an astronaut and an aquanaut,” says Garan. “When I was on my undersea mission, he came to our topside base. We were able to speak with him, with us under the sea and him in the control room above. He was there when we ‘splashed up.’ I have a fond memory of sitting with him on an oceanfront lawn, looking up at the sky, talking about renewable energy, talking about our respective missions, with the ISS high above us.”
A New Home
After numerous relocations for military assignments, NASA and other work, Garan and his wife, Carmel, were at a crossroads. They didn’t need to move anywhere. Garan visited Boulder in March 2020 to give a lecture at the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering on CU’s campus. “My wife came with me, and we both fell in love with Boulder,” he recalls. Four weeks later, they were unpacking boxes in their new home. “This was the thirtieth move of my life,” says Garan, “but the first where we moved simply because we found a place we wanted to live.” What sealed the deal? “We’re active in the outdoors, so having Flatirons trails close is a blessing,” Garan says, adding, “there’s a major university, a strong startup community and a vibrant city.”
A Call to Action
After viewing the planet from a perspective few have seen, Garan knew he had a greater purpose. He felt a moral imperative, of sorts. A responsibility to his fellow humans to share what space taught him. To that end he consults with corporations, holds public speaking engagements and writes. His most recent book, “Floating in Darkness,” is an autobiographical narrative that serves as an allegory for the direction Garan believes society needs to go. “My motivation was to illuminate a path out of divisiveness, out of polarization and toward a future that we all want to be a part of,” Garan says.
He has also been involved with many nonprofits and social enterprises, many of which have scaled and taken on a life of their own. Garan’s current focus is Constellation, a coalition of astronauts from different backgrounds, cultures and religions working to protect the planet. Garan says, “What we fight over blurs into insignificance when you see our planet from space.” What remains is the beauty and possibility of unity, which continues to fill Garan with a strong call to action.
To learn more, visit constellation.earth.