NASA astronaut Joe Acaba beamed prayers and support for the people of Puerto Rico down from the International Space Station this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's devastation to the U.S. territory.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last week as a Category 4 storm and left widespread devastation in its wake. Most of the island is still without power eight days after the storm passed, and floods and debris from the hurricane have made it difficult to distribute supplies like food, water and fuel to the residents of Puerto Rico.
"From @Space_Station, thinking and praying for all families and friends in Puerto Rico," Acaba wrote on Twitter Sunday (Sept. 24). He also shared a photo of himself wearing a shirt with the Puerto Rican flag while floating in the space station's Cupola observatory. [In Photos: Hurricane Maria Seen from Space]
Acaba, who arrived at the International Space Station earlier this month, was the first person of Puerto Rican heritage to join NASA's astronaut corps. And this isn't the first time he has brought his Puerto Rican pride into space.
In 2009, Acaba took his maiden voyage into space on the space shuttle Discovery for mission STS-119. He brought a Puerto Rican flag along for the mission and requested that one of the crew's "wake-up songs" be a Puerto Rican folklore song titled "Qué Bonita Bandera," which translates to "What a Beautiful Flag."
"No Puerto Rican can travel without their Puerto Rican flag, so I have my share of those," Acaba told the Associated Press during an in-flight interview on Sept. 20. "Pretty soon, the space station's going to start looking like Puerto Rico with all the flags, so sorry, gentlemen," he said to his Expedition 53 crewmates, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and the European Space Agency's Paolo Nespoli.
Acaba wasn't born in Puerto Rico but rather Inglewood, California. However, his parents are from Puerto Rico. "I do still have a lot of family there," Acaba said. "I hope everyone's doing well and that you take care of yourselves."
Just three weeks before Acaba blasted off to the International Space Station, he had to deal with another catastrophic storm. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, his home was flooded along with thousands of other homes in the area.
"Luckily, there was an army of folks in the Houston area — a lot coming from the Johnson Space Center — that helped clean out my house, started yanking out walls and going through the drying process," Acaba said.
"It's certainly hard when people you care about are in a situation where you can't help them out and they need help," added Vande Hei, whose home is also located in Houston but wasn't flooded during Hurricane Harvey. "We're very fortunate, because there really are a lot of people in the community where our families live that are willing to go out of their way to look after our families, recognizing that we can't do it ourselves. So that's been hugely appreciated."