Having spent more than 150 days in space on her latest mission, U.S astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, whose grandfather was born in Tallinn, has now finally been able to make her visit to Estonia. In an interview with ETV show Ringvaade, Aunapu Mann said that as a child she was always excited to explain to everyone that her roots were in Estonia.
Nicole Aunapu Mann's name became familiar to many Estonians at the end of last year, when she led a NASA space team that flew out to the International Space Station (ISS). After making two visits to outer space, Aunapu Mann finally returned to Earth on March 11 upon completion of her 157-day mission.
Nicole's grandfather, Helmuth Werner Aunapuu, was originally from Tallinn, but emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and became a U.S. citizen. Although she was never able to talk to her grandfather about Estonia, as he passed way 20 years before she was born, Nicole knew she had some Estonian blood because of her father.
"With our last name, 'Aunapu,' there were many questions as a child about where this name came from. I was always excited to explain that I was Estonian," she recalled.
Now, Aunapu Mann has made her first trip to Estonia, visiting the farm near Käina on Hiiumaa, where her ancestors lived in the 19th century. "You know the smell of Hiiumaa, it's just beautiful," Nicole said. "I love the sound of the trees and the grass, and you can feel it. That's one thing that I missed so much when I was in space. Just feeling that breeze on your face, it's incredible."
Aunapu Mann said that she has always wanted to visit Estonia, but had never before had the chance. "I knew that as soon as I got back from space, that would be my opportunity to come and visit Estonia. I was grateful to be able to bring my family as well," she said.
She also said, that Estonia was very much in her thoughts while she was out in space.
"You can see Estonia, but we don't pass right over Estonia. We come just south of the Baltic Sea," Aunapu Mann explained. "So, I tried to get some great pictures of Estonia, but we were at such a slant angle, that you can see the land, but you can't see it well enough to pick out the features of Estonia."
"When you look at the planet, it's absolutely incredible. It's so bright and alive," she added.
Asked about the prospect of becoming the first female astronaut to step foot on the moon, Aunapu Mann stressed that there is still a lot of work to do before that becomes a reality.
"I'm not sure that I'll have the opportunity to step on the surface of the moon. But, potentially," she said.
Editor: Michael Cole