Steamboat high school grad's space trip delayed

Swanson will work on International Space Station

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— Astronaut Steve Swanson's day in space has been postponed for a year because of complications.

Swanson's Space Shuttle mission originally was scheduled to launch this month. That mission has been pushed back to February 2007 because NASA has been experiencing budget cuts and evaluating complications that arose during the Columbia mission in July.

"Foam came off of the big fuel tank (during liftoff), which hit the wing, causing a big hole," Swanson said. "A space shuttle is a very complex machine. A lot of things have to work right. We are trying to lower the risk now and get it controllable, but there is always somewhat of a risk."

Swanson, a 1979 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, has been assigned to the crew of STS-117. The goal of the mission is to continue building the International Space Station that orbits the Earth about 300 miles from the surface. The crew will install a second starboard truss segment with a photovoltaic radiator and will attach a third set of solar arrays and batteries.

Swanson said it will take 16 to 17 missions to complete the construction of the space station, which has been in orbit since 2000.

"I will be involved in one or two space walks, robotic arm operation and other assorted tasks," Swanson said.

He has been training for the mission in the largest pool in the United States, in Houston. Astronauts practice their missions on an exact replica of the space station in the pool, Swanson said. "When you are training for all the possible problems, it takes a long time."

His six-person crew will be in orbit for 14 days. "The launch itself will be a very exciting and interesting wonderful experience," Swanson said. "Of course, we also hope to be able to live in the environment in space."

Swanson will be able to communicate with his family via telephone and e-mail from the space station. "It is no high-speed Internet, but three times a day, we can connect to a server and get an uplink," Swanson said.

As the mission approaches, Swanson said his family will feel apprehensive. "They've had a long time to think about this, knowing that someday it was going to happen," Swanson said. "They understand the consequences and risks to be taken. You just get a big insurance policy and hope for the best."

Swanson will take pictures for his children while he's in space. "I want to give back to my family that has to suffer," Swanson said. "They would rather be living in Steamboat than Houston."

After completing this mission, he plans to do another mission during which he will live on the space station for three to six months.

Swanson has been waiting to go into space since he joined NASA 21 years ago. "That's too long," he said.

-- To reach Allison Plean, call 871-4204

or e-mail aplean@steamboatpilot.com

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