06/10/2014 12:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Astronaut And The Traditional Polynesian Sailing Canoe

This post was originally written on Friday, June 6, 2014.


Today is our 6th day at sea en route to Tahiti on the Hawaiian sailing canoe, Hōkūleʻa, and we are in the doldrums. The ocean is a wild, untamed place, where nature directs our course and is our greatest teacher. Last night, it felt like we were flying through the stars on a spaceship of our ancestors. I thought of how this entire voyage was inspired to Mālama Honua, or care for our earth.

One of our visionaries and teachers for this voyage is Lacy Veach. Lacy was Hawai'i's second astronaut with NASA after Ellison Onizuka, and he flew on two missions of the space shuttle Columbia. I never had the opportunity to meet Lacy in person, so I will share the story of how Lacy inspired the Worldwide Voyage through the eyes of Nainoa Thompson, Hōkūleʻa's captain:

"Lacy loved Hawai'i and our voyaging canoes and saw immediately the connection between these canoes and Hawai'i's future. On one of his shuttle flights, Lacy was able to stow away an adze stone from his grandfather. The stone came from Keanakako'i, an adze quarry located 12,500 feet up on the slopes of Mauna Kea, a special place where ancient Hawaiians worked in sub-zero temperature to make adzes; Lacy took a photo of his adze floating in space with Mauna Kea behind it framed by the cockpit window as he was flying 160 miles above Earth.

adze stone
Photo by Lacy Veach: View of Hawai'i Island from Space Shuttle Columbia

"Lacy passed away from cancer. Before he died, he told me, 'Nainoa, you can never believe the beauty of Island Earth until you see it in its entirety from space.' He was the world's greatest optimist, but he always felt a great concern over the imbalance between human needs and the limited resources of our small planet, over the danger of exponential population growth and depletion of natural resources to support that growth.

"On one of his shuttle flights, a fellow crew member woke Lacy up and told him to look out the window -- they were passing over the Hawaiian Islands. Lacy could see all the Islands, and he could see his whole spirit and soul here. He saw the entire planet in one vision. ʻThe best place to think about the fate of our planet is right here in the islands. If we can create a model for well-being here in Hawai'i, we can make a contribution to the entire world.'"

hawaii from columbia
Photo by Lacy Veach: View of the Hawaiian Islands from Space Shuttle Columbia

Lacy told Nainoa, "I'm going to fly two more times in the shuttle. Then I'm coming home. I'm coming home to help children who want to learn." When I hear these words, I understand my role on this voyage: to inspire children to want to learn, explore, love and care for our sacred places. It is that simple.

When I was in third grade, I remember learning about the ancient Hawaiians and their way of living in balance with nature, including growing food, making clothing, fishing, weaving, and, my favorite: deep sea voyaging. We built a miniature Hōkūleʻa out of cardboard and wood, and we planned a voyage to Tahiti. I remember being so excited and feeling like a true Polynesian voyager and explorer. It would be 12 years later when I would first see Hōkūleʻa in 2007 in Okinawa, Japan. When I saw Hōkūleʻa for the first time, I remembered my 3rd grade voyage and the feeling of imagining I was setting sail to find an island thousands of miles away.

pretend hokulea
Photo by Mrs. Varney: Hanahauʻoli School 3rd Graders (class of ʻ96) on our maiden voyage to Tahiti (I am in the yellow sweater serving food to my fellow crew members).

Because of teachers and visionaries like Lacy Veach, it is now our generation's kuleana (responsibility) to inspire the next generation to want to learn, explore, take risks and find solutions for our Island Earth.

Learn more and follow the voyage at