Friday, April 8, 2016

Exploration, Navigation, Commitment to Care

Master builder Wright Bowman Sr., born in 1907, created this scaled reproduction sculpture of Hōkūleʻa in 1978, on display at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

by Bill Doughty

U.S. astronaut Air Force Lt. Col. Charles Lacy Veach looked out the window of the space shuttle as it passed over Hawaii and had an epiphany about "island Earth."

"Lacy could see all the islands, and he could see his whole spirit and soul here. He could see the entire planet as one vision," said master navigator Dr. Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Thompson credits Veach for inspiring Mālama Honua ("Care for the Earth"), the worldwide journey of a double-hull voyaging canoe, Hōkūleʻa, using traditional navigation techniques. The voyage is underway to raise awareness of our collective responsibility to protect and cherish our home planet.

"Hawaii is a laboratory for living well on islands, including Island Earth," according to Thompson, in an interview with PBS.

Kathy Muneno of Hawaii's KHON reports, "Thompson says it’s when Veach saw Hawaii from space that he knew it held the answer to a beautiful, sustainable and caring Earth. He says Veach actually planted the seed for Hōkūleʻa to sail around the world."

Muneno writes, "Veach and Nainoa Thompson became fast friends and hatched a plan for a three-way call: Veach in the space shuttle, Thompson on the ‘spaceship’ of ancestors, Hōkūleʻa in the South Pacific, both fielding questions from children in Hawaii and broadcasting to hundreds of classrooms."

Friends Nainoa Thompson and Lacy Veach.
They answered students' questions and put navigation by the stars – and with the stars – in context: "exploration."

Hōkūleʻa ("star of gladness," named for the star Arcturus, which passes over Hawaii) departs from Titusville, Florida today after a poignant visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, where Thompson and other voyagers paid tribute to Veach's legacy before continuing their voyage up the East Coast.

“The country needs to know that Lacy was the one that planted the idea as a seed into us in 1992 to take Hōkūleʻa around the world.” said Thompson, “Florida becomes foundational for us to articulate and communicate to this country that that’s why we’re coming – out of respect, and out of honoring and making sure that they know that Lacy’s legacy counts. I don’t think we can go up the coast until we establish that.”

Arriving in Titusville, Florida. Photo courtesy and Oiwa TV, by Niehu Anthony.
Thompson held a ceremony aboard the canoe to honor the memory of Hawaii astronauts Ellison Onizuka and Lacy Veach and their contributions to exploration in space. He spoke with NASA employees and shared stories of how Veach inspired a generation of students and voyagers at sea and in space.

“Coming to NASA for me has been an amazing celebration,” Thompson told Hōkūleʻa and NASA crew, as reported on “Lacy is our navigator on this voyage, and for that, this is the most important two days for me.”

Thompson's tribute to Lacy and his vision of "the beauty of island Earth" is published by the Polynesian Voyaging Society. It's a beautiful tribute and shows Veach's commitment to teaching the next generation.

Like President Obama, Veach is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu. He was commissioned in the United States Air Force upon graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1966 and served as a USAF fighter pilot. According to his NASA bio, he flew "the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-111, and the F-105 Thunderchief, on assignments in the United States, Europe, and the Far East, including a 275-mission combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam."

Lacy Veach in space.
He was a member of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, in 1976 and 1977. Veach left active duty in 1981, but served as a F-16 pilot with the Texas Air National Guard before becoming an astronaut in June 1985. 

From his bio: "He held a variety of technical assignments, and had flown as a mission specialist on two Space Shuttle missions, STS-39 in 1991 and STS-52 in 1992. He had logged 436.3 hours in space. Most recently, Lacy had worked as the lead astronaut for the development and operation of robotics for the International Space Station."

Veach is mentioned in the same breath as Pinky Thompson (Nainoa's father), Mao Piailug and Eddie Aikau, inspirational leaders who are part of a seafaring tradition. 

Eddie was an experienced waterman and crew member of Hōkūleʻa who was lost at sea in 1978 when he set out on his surfboard to get help after the canoe capsized. "Eddie would go" symbolizes determination, commitment and selflessness.

U.S. Navy Sailors in Hawaii have a history of working with the Polynesian Voyaging Society – volunteering to assist with fixing and painting facilities, sanding and refurbishing canoes, and advising voyagers.

Just prior to Hōkūleʻa's voyage, Rear Adm. Frank Ponds (then-Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific) spoke with Kathy Muneno and spoke about mitigating the dangers they could face transiting the Pacific, including pirates, storms and rogue waves.

Lt. D. Stayton holds a sextant in a class at USNA. (Photo by MU2 T. Caswell.)
Recently the Navy announced a renewed interest in teaching traditional navigation techniques at the Naval Academy (USNA), using constellations, the sun and moon as Hōkūleʻa does, without relying on global positioning satellites.

National Public Radio published a story about the initiative, noting "Navigation by the stars dates back millennia. The ancient Polynesians used stars and constellations to help guide their outrigger canoes across thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean. And right up until the mid-20th century, navigation on the sea was usually done by looking at the heavens."

As for Hōkūleʻa, the voyaging canoe heads north up the East Coast now toward Washington D.C. and New York via South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. At the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, the voyagers plan to participate in the Earth Day celebration there April 23. 

In a post on

"After spending about a week in Washington DC, Hōkūleʻa will sail to New York City, where she will be a focal point at World Oceans Day events hosted by the United Nations on June 8, 2016. The theme of this year’s World Oceans Day is 'Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.' While in New York City, Hōkūleʻa will also participate in the Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge, which is the East Coast’s largest Pacific Islands festival and one of the world’s most competitive outrigger races. Hōkūleʻa is expected to depart New York City on June 18 for several engagements in the New England area."

To follow the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, visit

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