The Story of the Birds and the Bees – Goodbye to Space

This post is about real birds and real bees (sort of). On St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2011, I left Houston for Star City, Russia via Frankfurt and Moscow, and the start of my journey to space. As I sat at the airport, I wrote the blog post, “IAH Gate E7: 1st Leg on the Journey to Space

As I prepared to leave for final launch preparations, I experienced an interesting phenomenon. Realizing that leaving Houston starts me on a journey that will take me off the planet for six months, I started to take note of things that I will not experience for half a year. Whether it’s a flock of birds against the sunset or early morning mist on the water of Clear Lake, or a million other things that define the beauty of life on our planet, I experienced a profound appreciation for the gift of the beauty of our world. I will miss a great many experiences that I normally take for granted, but I also look forward to the new experiences that define the beauty of life off the planet.
So here I am about to return to Earth after five and a half months in space. I’m getting excited about again experiencing all those things that define life on Earth. At the same time, however, I’m realizing that I will leave behind all those things that define life in space.
I’ve been told that when Sasha Samokutyaev, Andrey Borisenko and I land later today, we will have spent 164 days in space (162 on the International Space Station), made 2,624 orbits of the Earth, and will have flown 65,340,224 miles (but who’s counting?).  After all this time in space, separated from the Earth, I have come to know a new existence up here. An existence that is without many of the sights, sounds, smells and feel of life on Earth, but an existence with its own share of special defining qualities.
Among the things I will miss is the freedom of movement we have here inside the space station.  Nothing is out of reach. If I want to go somewhere, I can be there with the push of a finger. If I need to work on something on the floor, I don’t need to bend down – I have the freedom to flip my body around and stand on the ceiling — turning the floor into the ceiling.  If my hands are full and I need to grab something, I can simply let go of what I’m holding, and it will stay right in front of me (for a little while, at least).
Not upside down!
I will also truly miss looking out the windows. 
The view from my window in the Space Station Cupola: the west coast of Africa
I will miss looking at our beautiful planet and the grandeur of our universe from this vantage point. I will miss watching meteors streak across our atmosphere below us, the rapid fire paparazzi flashbulbs of lightening storms at night, and flying so close to dancing curtains of auroras that you feel like you could reach out and touch them. 
Dancing lights near Tasmania 11:00am GMT September 14, 2011
I will miss gazing from space at places on Earth that have significance to me because of the memories of visits or their beauty. I will also miss seeing those places on the planet where  life is being made better through the work of amazing people.
The Horn of Africa 1:45pm GMT September 14, 2011
I will miss watching the Earth transform from day into night and night into day sixteen times a day. 
Sunrise from space, August 27, 2011, as we flew along a path between Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I will miss watching thunderstorms casting long shadows across the Earth as the sun starts to set. I will miss watching the Earth change from blue, white and green to pink, red, and then black as the sun sets. I will miss watching the Earth come alive after the sun has set and the cities and towns light up the planet.
The California coast at daybreak April 17, 2011
I will miss seeing the line that separates day from night and contemplating the stark differences in the human experience on either side as it slowly moves across the surface of our Earth.
The man-made border between India and Pakistan, visible from space on August 17, 2011
I will miss a thousand other things that define life in space and I understand and appreciate that I have been given a special privilege to have these experiences. 
Because of this, I also feel a great responsibility to share these experiences, as best I can, with as many people as possible. I have tried very hard over these past months to do just that. I have found that sharing this experience with all of you has made the experience more meaningful and enjoyable.  I thank you all for being with me on this journey.
Above all else, what I will miss most about living and working in space is striving to use the orbital perspective to inspire people to make a positive difference and help improve life on Earth. The good news is that I don’t have to be in space (or ever have been in space) to have the orbital perspective. I don’t need to have ever been in space to realize that we have one planet that we are all riding on together through the universe, that we are all interconnected, that we are all family. 
I look forward to continuing the efforts of Fragile Oasis after I return to Earth. I look forward to continuing to share this experience with others as best I can. I took tens of thousands of pictures during my time on the International Space Station, and I look forward to continuing sharing those with you after my return to Earth.
Thanks to everyone for being with me on this journey. Let’s continue it together. This my last blog post from space, but in my next post from Earth, I’ll tell you what it was like to be human meteor as Sasha, Andrei and I return to Earth in our Soyuz capsule.
I want to wish all the best to everyone on our good Earth,
Ron Garan, Earthling