Steamboat Springs Astronaut Steve Swanson doesn't remember watching the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon, but he has a much more personal memory of the man who wowed the world July 20, 1969.
“Shortly after becoming an astronaut, Neil Armstrong came and talked to our class,” Swanson, a 1979 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, wrote last week in an email to the Steamboat Today reflecting on Armstrong's death. “It was a fantastic experience to hear firsthand the stories of his adventures. But to me, the most amazing part was how little the experience changed him, in the sense of personality.”
Swanson said the high-octane experience of leaving space and getting to experience what very few humans have experienced didn't fuel Armstrong's ego.
Spaceflight and leaving footprints on the moon was not about Armstrong, Swanson said, but about NASA and what the human race had accomplished together.
“He was still a quiet, humble and very nice person,” Swanson said.
And although Swanson cannot recall watching the moon landing live with hundreds of millions of others across the planet, the astronaut has watched it with pleasure many times since.
“Every time I see it, I am amazed and awed at (what) was accomplished that day,” Swanson wrote.
Armstrong died last month at the age of 82 and instantly was hailed as a hero.
After Swanson met the moon-walker in the classroom, he went on to have his own storied career with NASA.
Swanson has been to space twice, most recently in March 2009 aboard Discovery. He returned after logging 307 hours in space and completing two space walks while working on the International Space Station.
He currently is training in Star City, Russia, for a future mission to the International Space Station.
A veteran of the now-disbanded shuttle program, Swanson said the Apollo missions are arguably NASA's greatest achievement.
“The moment Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon changed our world; we were no longer confined to our planet,” Swanson wrote. “I believe this gave society the sense that they could possibly go anywhere. The future was wide open.”
And as he reflects on Armstrong's legacy, Swanson also is pondering the future of NASA's manned spaceflight program after the end of the shuttle era.
Speaking before the U.S. Senate's Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation in 2010, Armstrong questioned NASA's plan to rely on private companies for future spaceflight. He also made it clear America should continue to be a pioneer in space travel.
Swanson said astronauts are working to make sure that happens.
"The U.S.-led International Space Station is built and performing well, and so we do have a presence in space, but I agree with Neil’s statements, and I believe it is very sad and demoralizing that we do not have our own way to get to space,” Swanson wrote. “Working with the Russians is fine, and their launch vehicle is good, but it is hard to be the leader in space when you don’t have your own way to get there. Again there are many reasons we are in this situation, but suffice to say, we are working very hard to get out of it. And hopefully, with good leadership and the help of Congress, we can succeed."
Steamboat Today reporter Joel Reichenberger contributed to this story.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com