GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – A lucky group of Greenville County 4th graders received a special visit from a former astronaut this afternoon.

Students in the Greenville County Schools Virtual Program were ‘over the moon’ excited after their teacher, Mirna Hawthorne, was nominated by parents and family members to receive a special visit from retired NASA astronaut, Ron Garan.

Garan spent 178 days in space and traveled more than 71 million miles during 2,842 orbits of our planet. He flew on both the US space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, where he accomplished four spacewalks. He also spent eighteen days at the bottom of the ocean during a research mission held in the world’s only undersea research lab, Aquarius.

Garan said he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish such a feat without the support of the teachers he’s had in his life.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging year for everyone but especially teachers. They have been at the forefront of the challenges and obstacles we have all faced and I wanted to give back because I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go into space without the help and support of all the teachers I’ve had in my life,” Garan said in an emailed statement to 7 News.

Mrs. Hawthorne told us she’s very interested in all things space and weaves space-themed topics into many of her lessons. She speaks five languages, is a teacher liaison for the Space Foundation and passionately advocates for educational programs within the context of space.

“There is so much to learn, so much adventure and so much science that still needs to be discovered and we need our young students to be interested in that and we need a new generation of young people to be scientists,” Hawthorne said.

During the hour-long virtual meet and greet, students were able to ask Garan questions about his journey into outer space, learn more about how he began his career and children viewed videos of his mission to the International Space Station.