Beginning June 2013, USAID will begin a Q&A interview series on our Impact Blog. The first in this series is an interview with NASA astronaut, Colonel Ronald J. Garan, who is temporarily assigned to USAID in the Office of Science and Technology.
In this interview, Colonel Garan discusses his journey to becoming a NASA astronaut and his interest in international development.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be an astronaut?
A: On July 20, 1969. That was the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was seven. I was only a little kid, so I never would have thought to put it this way, but even then I knew that this meant something big. Humanity had changed. Something exciting was happening, and I wanted to be a part of it. So after serving in the Air Force as a test pilot, I finally realized my dream and became a part of the space program in 2000.
Q: What got you interested in international development?
A: Well, I’ve had two passions in my career. First, I wanted to fly in space and contribute to the space program. And secondly, I’ve always been passionate about making life on Earth a little bit better. When you’re looking at the earth from space, it re-shapes your perspective. You can’t help but appreciate the sobering contradiction between the beauty of our planet and the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for a significant number of its inhabitants. I wanted to make a difference.
Q: So now that you are on detail with USAID, what exactly are you working on?
A: As I became more involved with international development and humanitarian work, I saw firsthand just how much duplication of effort exists in the field. We could make development progress much more rapidly by collaborating more efficiently. So I spend a lot of time and energy working on a universal open source platform for collaboration. My dream is to be a part of a collaborative platform that allows international organizations, governments, NGOs, socially-oriented businesses, and entrepreneurs to all collaborate together, speaking the same “language” to achieve common development goals.
Q: What do you see as the most promising new technology in the international development field?
A: Without question, the exponential increase in the ability of computers to solve problems. I can’t say what form that will take in fifty years, or even five years. But the rapid and low-cost diffusion of computing power will ultimately have profound impacts on global health, food security, conflict mitigation… few aspects of USAID’s work will remain untouched by these profound changes.