A celestial journey | SteamboatToday.com

A celestial journey

Steamboat grad prepares for Space Station mission

— Steve Swanson never was one of those boys who ran around with a sheet tied around his neck, holding a flag and pretending to walk on the moon.

No, Swanson always dreamed he’d be a firefighter.

It wasn’t until after the former Steamboat Springs High School student graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 1986 with a master of applied science in computer systems that he decided to put his extensive math and science background to good use.

“So I decided I’d become an astronaut,” Swanson said Friday while navigating through Houston traffic. “I figured I couldn’t stay in school forever and I’d need a career, so I found something interesting.”

Swanson, who has been with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since 1987, is slated to take part in his first space mission in April aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Swanson is part of a six-person crew that will deliver a starboard truss segment and its associated energy systems to the International Space Station, which orbits 300 miles from the Earth’s surface. The two-week trip also is expected to include three or four space walks, he said.

A hailstorm damaged the space shuttle last week and has postponed the mission until mid to late April, Swanson said.

“That freak bit of nature caused a few problems,” he said. “It’s just part of the game. You’ve been waiting a long time already, what’s another month?”

Instead of being disappointed, Swanson looks at the setback as a blessing in disguise because he now has a few weeks of “spring break” to enjoy with his family before heading back to the intense training to which NASA subjects its astronauts.

Calling Steamboat home

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 and a Steamboat resident, said the family is excited and nervous for Swanson’s upcoming adventure.

“It’s a mixture of excitement and anxiety,” she said. “It’s not the safest thing to do. It’s been a great adventure for all of us. We’re excited for Steve and happy in our ignorance because we don’t know what can go wrong.”

During his time in Steamboat, Swanson excelled in academics and sports, former educators recalled.

Longtime high school boys basketball coach Kelly Meek coached Swanson, who was a varsity point guard for three years before graduating in 1979.

“I remember Steven being very focused in the classroom and on the court,” Meek said. “He was someone the team had a lot of trust in.”

Meek said coaching Swanson was easy because after being told something once, Swanson would never need additional direction.

“He was so dynamic in the math and sciences – he just had a gift for that,” he said. “He saw things sequentially, so he always knew what was coming, which is great when you’re playing basketball.”

Swanson, who visits Steamboat as often as he can, was the highlight of a school assembly about seven years ago.

“I really think it’s neat that he’s remembered his roots and has included the high school in so much,” current high school Principal Mike Knezevich said. “Steamboat Springs and Steamboat Springs High School had to be real memorable in his life.”

Swanson said he enjoys coming back to the school to share his life experiences with students.

“I like to help the kids realize that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from – that there are opportunities out there to do whatever you want to do,” he said.

Race to space

When high school officials realized Swanson would be taking a trip to space, they began working on something he could take with him to represent the city and the school.

Lizzie Stoll, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School, was selected to create a colorful sash that Swanson could wear during the mission.

“I figured he wouldn’t want to just hold some drawing as he went into space,” she said Thursday. “Making that sash was a bigger task than I thought it’d be.”

Stoll sewed the sash before school and whenever she had free time. The sash consists of brightly colored pieces of fabric featuring the Steamboat Ski Area, the Steamboat Springs High School anchor, hot air balloons and scenes from space.

“I wasn’t really expecting it to be that big of a deal,” she said. “It was a last-minute thing that turned into something much bigger.”

Swanson said he received the sash months ago and is eager to wear it.

“It was nice,” he said. “We’re taking it with us on the mission. Hopefully I can bring it back to” Stoll.

“He always loved being part of the team,” Meek said. “That’s what he’s doing now : he’s part of a team completing a mission.”

– To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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