Ron Garan: 'I Hope the Heat Shield and Parachutes Work'

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NASA astronaut Ron Garan is continuing his social media trend-setting ways by joining the online community Reddit. And what’s the first thing he did? He posted on the Reddit IAmA forum. The result is nothing short of fascinating.

By posting to the IAmA, you’re inviting questions from any Reddit member — it’s an open forum, a free-for-all. In Garan’s case, he posted the simple one-liner: “IAmA NASA Astronaut that recently returned to Earth after a 1/2 year in space. I’m brand new to reddit (like hours ago) AMA.” — AMA means “Ask Me Anything,” so Reddit complied.

Garan was a part of Expedition 27/28 to the International Space Station from April 4 to Sept. 16, 2011. He carried out many experiments on the space station and participated in the final spacewalk (EVA) of the shuttle program during Atlantis’ STS-135 mission.

PHOTOS: Garan’s Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey

Needless to say, when any astronaut — let alone an astronaut of Garan’s caliber — says “Ask Me Anything,” everything is asked.

One Redditor asked whether Garan experienced the flashes of light (famously reported by astronauts in the 1960s) when his retina was struck by high-energy particles from the sun while he was living in orbit, to which he replied: “Yes I did experience that. Sometimes it was a flash and at other times it was a streak of light. I’m sure it happens all the time but I only noticed it as I was getting ready to fall asleep.”

PHOTO: Garan photographs a meteor from orbit

What went through Garan’s mind during his journey back to Earth? To the surprise of one Redditor, he replied with: “I hope the heat shield and parachutes work,” adding that reentry was “like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel (that’s on fire) followed by a high speed crash.”

When asked whether he’d accept a mission to Mars, Garan said, “Yes for the same reason I accept the risk of flying to the ISS – because it is important for our future (if the dinosaurs had a space program they’d still be here).”

Another commenter, seeing the opportunity for a witty retort, replied: “If the dinosaurs had a space program, we’d all be in trouble.” And then a spin-off discussion ensued about a dinosaur arms race and some additional comedy about the T. Rex’s tiny arms.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the question about whether Garan’s space adventures had changed his appreciation for Earth was raised, to which he replied: “No but it reinforced my appreciation of the gift we have all been given (our Earth) and a renewed understanding that we all have a responsibility to leave it a little better than we found it.”

PHOTO: An Astronaut-Eye View of the Space Station

The crowd-sourced interview is long, informative and very entertaining, so if you have the time be sure to read as much as you can. Through his Twitter account when he was in orbit, Garan stunned the world with his continuous stream of space TwitPics and now he’s taking the social web by storm, giving us a unique and personal insight to what life is like as an astronaut.

Reddit has really come into its own, and although AMA forums don’t always go to plan — as actor Woody Harrelson found out to his horror recently — Ron Garan has taken to the platform like a duck to water.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be getting back to reading this Reddit thread…

Image: Ron Garan composing the “Space Station Blues” as he’s informed that he’s “going home tomorrow.” Credit: Fragile Oasis