NASA astronauts speak out for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


 

Four NASA astronauts recently spoke about their cultural heritage to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which runs through May. Appearing in a NASA YouTube video (released May 21) were astronauts Sunita Williams (an Indian-American), Jonny Kim (Korean-American), Kjell Lindgren (Asian-American-Chinese), and Raja Chari (Korean-American).


Each astronaut spoke about the influence their family and culture had on their lives and careers, while NASA administrator Bill Nelson mentioned the role AAPI Heritage Month can play in advancing leaders through purpose-driven service, the theme of this year's month.


It's important to empower others to serve, with the understanding that our greatest mission is to make the Earth a better place and ensure a bright future for everyone on it. Our astronauts do that. On the ISS, they carry out groundbreaking science that's important to unlocking discoveries, and those discoveries solve problems and treat diseases here on Earth. They're also doing needed research that eventually will land American astronauts on Mars.


The astronauts all talked about what they learned from their parents and their cultures that helped in their lives and careers.


Williams said in the video, my parents had the biggest influence on me. Their heritage and traditions have made me the person I am today. My father, an immigrant from India, and my mother of Slovenian descent were instrumental in shaping me as a person and as an explorer.


Lindgren recalled watching Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian-American and person of Japanese origin to go to space preparing for his final mission, STS-51, aboard the space shuttle Challenger that lifted off on Jan. 28, 1986. Challenger exploded moments after liftoff and killed all seven astronauts on board.


Lindgren said, I of course was absolutely heartbroken at the loss of the Challenger. Coming full circle, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to go to Hawaii during my postflight [responsibilities], and to share the message of human spaceflight, reaching for goals, and investing in communities.


The astronaut group all spoke about the NASA-led Artemis moon-landing program, which just received an offer of participation from South Korea, and the increasing emphasis on international participation in space.


Kim said of the human spaceflight program at NASA, it means having the privilege to provide representation and a voice to young kids who want to dream, who deserve every right to pursue those dreams, and who need to have role models they can identify with. My heritage has shaped my lived experiences and has taught me perspective. And it's shown me that diversity strengthens our bonds, and enables powerful achievements.


The video didn't touch on the subject of China.

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