Steamboat grad to walk in space, finally

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After nearly 20 years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Steve Swanson finally will get his day in space.

Swanson, a 1979 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, recently was assigned as a crew member for an upcoming Space Shuttle mission scheduled to launch in April 2006. Seventeen years after joining NASA, Swanson said he's thrilled to get the opportunity to go to space.

"It's a great deal," Swanson said Thursday from his office at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "I'm very happy about it."

Swanson's mission, designated STS-117, will deliver a starboard truss segment and its associated energy systems to the International Space Station. The six-man crew will attach the truss segment to the space station and hook up the various electrical and cooling systems associated with the segment, Swanson said.

The mission will include three or four space walks, of which Swanson hopes to participate in two.

"I'm really looking forward to that," he said. Swanson also will operate a robotic arm used to work on the space station.

The mission is expected to last about two weeks. Although it takes less than nine minutes for the Space Shuttle to reach orbit after launching, it will take three days to dock to the International Space Station.

"It's going to be really fun," Swanson said.

Swanson, 44, joined NASA in 1987 after receiving his master's degree in applied science in computer systems from Florida Atlantic University. He later earned a doctorate in computer science from Texas A&M University.

Swanson's first job with NASA was as a systems engineer in the Aircraft Operations Division of the Johnson Space Center. During that time, Swanson worked on the Shuttle Training Aircraft, which simulates the flight characteristics of the Space Shuttle from 35,000 feet of altitude to landing. In 1989, Swanson became a flight simulation engineer on the Shuttle Training Aircraft. His work included improving the Shuttle Training Aircraft's navigation and control systems and incorporating a real-time wind determination algorithm.

Swanson was accepted into NASA's astronaut program in 1998. After 1 1/2 years of astronaut training, Swanson was assigned to the Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch. He also worked in the Astronaut Office Robotics Branch. Swanson currently is assigned as a CAPCOM, or spacecraft communicator, talking with the crews manning the International Space Station. In addition to his regular duties, Swanson has had to continue his Space Shuttle training, which includes training for space walks in a large specialized pool, working with robotic arms and studying Space Shuttle and International Space Station systems.

For Swanson, who returns to Steamboat once or twice a year with his wife and three children, the job with NASA has it all.

"It has mental challenges, physical challenges and adventure on the job," he said.

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