Science and Exploration

Book Review: “Floating in Darkness: A Journey Of Evolution” by Ron Garan

By Keith Cowing
June 19, 2021
Filed under ,
Book Review: “Floating in Darkness: A Journey Of Evolution” by Ron Garan
Floating in Darkness
Ron Garan

I just finished reading Astronaut Ron Garan’s second book “Floating in Darkness: A Journey Of Evolution”. Contrary to the word “darkness” in the title, this book brings so much to light.
I have gotten to know quite a few astronauts over the years – most of them just professionally. I have come to know a dozen or so much better and a few even more so. Every one of them has a different story as to how they came to be an astronaut. To some it was a calling. Others saw it as a logical career move. Some of them got in easily on their first try while others waited a decade or more. Some followed a straight path. Others took the long way around. I am not sure that I have ever met an astronaut who disliked their trips into space. I am sure there are a few. Most were clearly affected by the experience – some profoundly so.

Ron Garan had to overcome quite a lot to become an astronaut – a passion he had nurtured since childhood. Once he achieved it, space travel had its greatest effects upon him as he returned to Earth, reborn as a humanitarian. I must confess that I tend to be closer friends with those astronauts who see their space travels as the beginning of who they they have become as persons – and not the pinnacle of their life’s achievements.

In this endlessly personal memoir of how he came to be a human looking down upon his home from space, Ron Garan gives an unusually frank look as to the optimism, self-doubt, motivations, let downs, and joyous events that somehow conspired to deposit him in orbit. Deeply religious, Garan has a rather cogent context within which to place his life’s journey and what purpose has been bestowed upon his life.

Part of Garan’s trip to space involved a stint in the first Gulf War. I have to admit I have never read a more harrowing yet simultaneously matter-of-fact description of what it is like to fly a weapon through the sky like a rocket ship of old while people try to kill you. If anything can prepare one for the nerve racking aspects of space travel, aerial warfare certainly is one sure fire way to do so.

As is the case with his previous book, “The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles” (book review) it is abundantly clear that Ron Garan is an adherent – indeed an evangelist – for the notion of the so-called “Overview Effect” wherein one’s detachment from Earth during space travel, and then re-engaging with it as a whole world. This is followed by a return to that world and a re-engagement anew that leaves one with a wholly different appreciation for what means to be one of billions who are sailing through the cosmos on this frail blue marble, bringing a profound understanding of its fragility amidst a vast universe.

You may recall that video that Astronaut Mark Kelly shot in orbit that was used to open a June 2011 U2 concert in Seattle. In the video, in the space station’s cupola with the Earth below, Kelly assembled floating words to say “7 Billion – One Nation – Imagination – It’s A Beautiful Day”. He then quoted David Bowie’s “Major Tom” as an intro to U2’s “Its A beautiful Day” regarding his wife who was recovering from near-fatal gunshot wounds. Ron Garan was behind all of this and held the camera. This is the sort of thing one does during a stay in space when the manifest enormity of being so far away can instantly become an intimate moment with one or ten thousand or 7 billion people back on Earth.

The way that Garan weaves his tale is a bit like Paul’s travels on the road to Damascus – if you are familiar with that (I am – just a little). It is also evokes words written by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Its the not the destination, it’s the journey.”

With the growing number of non-professional astronauts who are starting to make their way into space, I think it is important to ponder the thoughts that pop into one’s head after being exposed to space – and what happens when one returns to their home planet. If Ron Garan’s thoughts as contained in his books are any indication of things to come, we will soon have many, many people with a burgeoning passion fo the exploration of space – one that is alloyed with a newfound passion for protecting our home world.

Unlike most astronauts who eventually get a real job and fade away I do not think we have heard the last from Ron Garan. Not by a long shot. He’ll soon have a lot of company.

Highly recommended.

Floating in Darkness: A Journey Of Evolution

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.