Steamboat grad reminisces surreal experience in space |

Steamboat grad reminisces surreal experience in space

Luke Graham

— Perhaps the most enduring image from NASA’s last Space Shuttle Atlantis mission happened to come from Steamboat Springs.

With 1979 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Steve Swanson in full suit and performing a spacewalk, every picture beamed down from space showed him with one constant: a big ear-to-ear grin on his face.

“I was having a lot of fun,” Swanson said from Houston on Tuesday. “I doubt there was a lot of people having more fun than me.”

But Swanson, who returned to Earth on June 22 after a 14-day mission as part of NASA’s STS-177 crew aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, said few people would not have fun heading into space, doing a spacewalk and getting to see views most people will never see.

“I don’t think that smile ever came off of his face,” Swanson’s daughter Caroline said. “This is his biggest dream come true : even now, anytime anyone mentions the launch, he starts smiling.”

Since Swanson’s return, he’s been immersed in debriefings, meetings and writing reports.

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While the trip, the landing and everything that has followed has kept Swanson extremely busy, he said the thing that hasn’t been lost on him was the whole experience.

From first getting accepted into NASA’s astronaut program in 1998 to having his mission delayed for more than a year, Swanson said when the day finally came to take off, it was something he relished.

“Once you become an astronaut, you know your turn in space is coming,” he said. “It was a really fun mission to do. I really had fun during the whole experience.”

Swanson and the rest of the STS-177 crew delivered a starboard truss segment and its associated energy systems to the International Space Station, which orbits 300 miles above the Earth. Swanson assembled new parts on the space station and operated shuttle and station arms for assembly.

Swanson said the mission was never “nerve-wracking” because everything happened so fast.

But one moment in particular stood out for Swanson.

Preparing for his first spacewalk, Swanson admitted he had a little apprehension at first. But once he was out and on top of the space station, Swanson said the experiences – and the view – were surreal.

“The sun came up and you could see the whole space station and the Earth,” Swanson said. “I just had to sit there and take it in. It was more of where I am than what I am. I tried to soak it all in. It certainly was an interesting thing.”

Swanson currently is waiting to be reassigned to another mission. He said he should find out in a year when he’ll head back into space.

For now, Swanson – whose wife, Mary, calls him a mountain man who just happens to be an astronaut – and his family will take a much-needed vacation through the Rocky Mountains and into Idaho to drop off Caroline at the University of Idaho, where she’ll start her freshman year this fall.

“It’s really, really neat,” said Caroline, who has been around astronauts her whole life. “It wasn’t that big of a deal when he didn’t fly. But now that he’s gone up, it’s mind-blowing that he’s been in space.”

Swanson said he plans to hike, bike, fish and camp – things he can’t do in fast-paced Houston, and things he and his family often have sacrificed while Swanson chased his dream of going into space.

“I think it’s been well worth all the work,” he said. “It’s something you have to put time into and do what you need to do to accomplish all your dreams.

“But it makes everything worthwhile.”