Steamboat High grad scheduled for NASA launch Friday

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— Steamboat Springs High School graduate and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson is scheduled to launch into space with the space shuttle Atlantis on Friday.

Swanson, a 1979 graduate, has waited more than a year to get into space. The mission's original launch date was April 2006.

The first delay was because of NASA budget cuts and then to evaluate complications that arose during the Columbia mission in July 2006. Swanson's hopes were dashed again in February, when a hailstorm damaged Atlantis' fuel tank insulation as the craft sat on the launch pad.

But as of Wednesday, NASA launch weather officer Kathy Winters reported there is only a 30 percent chance of weather prohibiting Friday's launch. There may be some thunderstorms in the area of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but they should progress to the west and clear the region by launch time, she said.

Swanson's crew will deliver a starboard truss segment and its associated energy systems to the International Space Station, which orbits 300 miles above the Earth. The 11-day trip will benefit future missions to the space station, which is projected to be complete in 2010.

It will be the first time Swanson has been into space.

Swanson's duties include assembling new parts on the space station and operating shuttle and station arms for assembly.

It has been a busy couple of days for Swanson and the rest of the STS-117 team. Since the countdown for takeoff began Tuesday, Swanson and his five fellow crew members have been preparing for takeoff.

Swanson, a mission specialist, has been busy with mission-specific training. He's also been busy checking flight suits and participating in numerous briefings.

Swanson, 46, was accepted into NASA's astronaut program in 1998. After 1 1/2 years of training, Swanson was assigned to the Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch. He also worked in the Astronaut Office Robotics Branch. Swanson's training included space walks in a large specialized pool, working with robotic arms and studying Space Shuttle and International Space Station systems.

Born in New York, Swanson and his family moved to Steamboat when he was in eighth grade. After graduating from Steamboat High, he married Mary Young, and the couple has three children. Chris Young, Swanson's mother-in-law, is a Routt County resident.

Launch of the shuttle is scheduled for 5:38 p.m. Friday.

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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