Ron Garan Recalls 'Historic' Expedition to International Space Station
International Space Station astronaut Ron Garan recently returned to the Kennedy Space Center and spoke to employees about his experiences during Expeditions 27 and 28, a time of transition for the orbiting laboratory.
"It was a very historic mission," he said. "We saw the last two shuttle missions come up and dock, but we also saw the transition from construction to utilization of the International Space Station."
Garan along with Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko lifted off aboard Soyuz TMA-21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 4, 2011.
"We launched almost 50 years to the day and from the same pad as Yuri Gagarin," said Garan, a Yonkers, N.Y. native who has been an astronaut since 2000.
The first human to fly in space, Yuri Gagarin circled the globe one time on April 12 1961. Garan believes the work on the space station is equally important.
"I truly believe that history books will show that the International Space Station has made life significantly better on planet Earth," he said. "The research and experiments we do on the space station simply cannot be done anywhere else on the planet."
Garan's pride is validated by the station's microgravity experiments, which have resulted in breakthroughs such as:
• Candidate treatments for forms of muscular dystrophy and cancer.
• The discovery that poisonous microbes increase in the microgravity of space, allowing scientists to develop new candidate vaccines.
• Nutrition studies that show diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are correlated with reduced bone loss.
"We've always talked about the different spinoffs from the space program, and those are all still very important," Garan said. "Now, for the first time, we have the opportunity to bring from space direct tangible benefits. The research that we are doing on board the space station is improving life on planet Earth."
Garan believes credit for these achievements goes to all who made the International Space Station possible.
"Everybody involved with the program, everybody who was involved with the hardware, with the training, with the operations had a direct impact in making the world a better place," he said. "All the people here at the Kennedy Space Center and all the other centers around the world that are involved had a hand in that."
Once Garan and his two Soyuz crewmates joined Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, along with NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman and European Space Agency astronaut Páolo Néspoli of Italy on April 6, 2011, they went right to work.
"We had to get acclimated to life on the space station quickly because very shortly after we got there, our first visitors arrived and that was the crew of STS-134 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour," Garan said. "It was a busy mission."
Endeavour’s crew docked with the space station on May 18, delivering the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to support observations of cosmic rays.
Kondratyev, Coleman and Néspoli departed on May 23 and the Endeavour crew undocked on May 30, 2011. The mission transitioned to Expedition 28 as the trio remaining aboard was joined on June 9, 2011 by NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa following their launch aboard Soyuz TMA-02M from Baikonur two days earlier.
Garan pointed out that the benefits of the space-based laboratory go beyond research and hardware.
"The investment is not only in technology, but in international cooperation," he said. "This is the best investment we have in our future, bar none."
STS-135, the final flight of the space shuttle, arrived during July 2011, delivering the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module packed with supplies and spare parts for the station. While Atlantis was docked, Garan and Fossum performed a spacewalk to transfer a failed ammonia pump to the shuttle's cargo bay and move the Robotic Refueling Mission hardware to the station.
With the departure of Atlantis and its crew, construction of the International Space Station was essentially complete, with the focus moving to utilization. The station crews conduct scientific experiments in various disciplines such as research into human adaption to microgravity, fluid physics, material science, radiation monitoring and Earth observation.
Garan noted that looking back at Earth was a favorite task with approximately 25,000 pictures taken during Expedition 27 and 28.
"When you see the beauty of our planet (from space) it is striking," he said. "We can look down from the orbital perspective and realize that each one of us is riding through the universe together on this spaceship we call Earth."
Garan, Borisenko and Samokutyaev undocked from the station on Sept. 16, 2011, landing their Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan later that day, completing over 164 days in orbit. Coupled with almost 14 days in orbit as a mission specialist during the STS-124 shuttle mission in 2008, Garan has spent 178 days in space.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center