Steamboat Springs astronaut making final preparations for mission to International Space Station
January 23, 2014
Countdown to liftoff
Click to learn more about Steve Swanson’s upcoming mission:
Steamboat Springs — Chan Young says that on most days, having a son-in-law who is an astronaut is no different from having a son-in-law with any other job.
This is especially true about Steve Swanson, who Young says doesn’t brag or boast too much about his accomplished career in low gravity.
"He doesn’t promote himself at all," Young said Thursday from his home in Steamboat Springs. "It’s not in his personality."
But on March 25, the difference between having an astronaut son-in-law and a son-in-law who isn’t will be stark.
That’s when Young will be in Kazakhstan watching Swanson blast off into space in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
It will be the Steamboat Springs High School graduate’s third trip to space, and his first since the end of the United States’ shuttle program.
It also will be the third time Young has watched Swanson, who is married to Young’s daughter Mary, blast off.
"I’m expecting this launch will be more intense," Young said, adding that when you know a family member is on the launch pad, you’re holding your breath a lot more. "When they first blast off, the energy is absolutely tremendous. Until you see it, you don’t really see and appreciate how much is involved."
The trip for friends and family to go watch Swanson’s launch has gone from a four-hour flight to Florida to an 18-hour journey to Moscow, and then a chartered flight to the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
The logistics won’t stop a group of Swanson’s closest family, friends and neighbors from being there again, but the cost of the trip means there will be fewer of them than at the Florida launch.
After liftoff, Young said, the group will wait either six hours or 48 hours for the capsule to dock with the International Space Station.
More than 200 miles above the Earth, Swanson will spend six months doing experiments on the station.
"It’s definitely exciting, and we’re really proud of him," Young said.
The mission still is two months away, but Swanson has a lot to prepare for. And he hopes the community will follow along.
Countdown to liftoff
On Thursday, Swanson was in a swimming pool near the Johnson Space Center in Houston continuing to train for upcoming space walks.
In a week, he’ll leave for Germany for another week of training.
Then he’ll come back and head out to Russia six weeks before the launch.
The training has been exhaustive, but you couldn’t tell from listening to Swanson over the phone.
As he talked about his training regimen and the goal of the expedition, his trip to space sounded just as exciting for him this time as it was the first time.
"There’s still a lot of little things to take care of," he said.
Between now and the big day, he’ll have about one week off to rest.
Swanson will be the flight engineer for Expedition 39, which is a joint mission with two Russian cosmonauts.
He will be promoted to station commander two months after launch when Expedition 40 begins.
It was just three years ago that Swanson was reflecting on the end of the shuttle program.
Camping in the Idaho woods with his family when shuttle Atlantis landed, he said it was a "sad day for the space program."
The space program has indeed changed dramatically since then as the U.S. is without a vehicle of its own in which to send astronauts to space.
But Swanson said people in Steamboat and across the country should continue to care about the upcoming mission.
"People have always explored. We like to hear about it. We like to see it," Swanson said. "We always want to find out what’s going on over the next ridge."
And in space, there are plenty of those next ridges.
While his last space shuttle missions focused on building the International Space Station, Swanson said his next six months in space will concentrate more on experiments.
The list of experiments is extensive.
Why does being in microgravity cause a cell atrophy?
Why are many astronauts experiencing eyesight problems after long duration flights?
Swanson said he and the other astronauts are guinea pigs in these experiments that could have implications on future space exploration.
Experiments already done in space also have value here on Earth.
Through the help of NASA technicians, Swanson said countries have been able to make new portable machines that can help to recycle and filter water for drinking.
Robotic arms also are helping brain surgeons do more precise surgeries.
"The science we’re doing has so many benefits that come back to Earth," Swanson said.
A 1979 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, Swanson still considers Steamboat to be his hometown.
In a video profile of the astronaut released by NASA, he spent a lot of time talking about his love of the outdoors and how living in Steamboat had a big impact on his life.
"I just enjoy being there, being outside," he said. "It was a great place to grow up…I still love doing all that kind of outdoor stuff, and I think that’s what the area brought to me."
He said that the view from space is beautiful, as expected, but he also looks down and sees new places and mountain ranges he wants to explore.
Swanson currently lives in Houston with his wife, Mary, and their three children.
His parents Stanley and June live in Eagle, Idaho.
After graduating from Steamboat High, Swanson earned his degree in engineering physics from the University of Colorado.
His career as an astronaut began in 1998.
Back here in Steamboat, Swanson’s friends who aren’t attending the launch already are excited about his next trip.
They’ll be able to follow along via webcasts and constant mission updates on NASA’s website.
"He’s so awesome. He was a very likable friend during high school, and I think he was voted most likely to succeed," classmate Donna Mae Hoots said. "I think his success goes to show you that it’s not just athletics here. It’s not just skiing. We’re a very well-rounded town."
After liftoff, Mae Hoots and Swanson’s other friends will be following every development.
Meanwhile, Young is preparing to leave March 18 for Moscow.
"It’s an exciting job," Young said. "Of course, you always think about the risks involved and the time consumed. But by and large, it’s something I can fully understand why he wants to do it."