Published: Sept. 1, 2009 By

steve swanson

Steve Swanson

Whether hiking in the mountains or walking in space, astronaut Steve Swanson’s (EngrPhys’83) life is full of adventure.

“Growing up in Steamboat Springs, Colo., I loved to explore — it was always interesting,” Steve says. “I think exploration is innate in human beings.”

Between June 6, 2007, and March 28, 2009, Steve participated in the Atlantis and Discovery missions to the International Space Station. He logged 643 hours in space during these missions and took four spacewalks, two each time. His first spacewalk stunned him.

“You look out and the sun comes up and you can see the station with the Earth below,” he said in a preflight interview with NASA. “I couldn’t work for a few minutes. I just stopped and looked and took everything in.”

The tasks on Discovery were similar to the Atlantis mission, but he had more responsibility as the lead spacewalker.

“It was a fantastic thing, a great accomplishment and privilege, being able to connect the solar array,” he reflects. “Thousands of people were involved in making this Discovery mission a reality and then they got to see it come to fruition.”

Back on Earth, he mows his yard just like his neighbors. For him, being an astronaut is “just a job” that keeps him away from home a lot. He’s proud his employer, NASA, makes a profit for this country. “There’s a return on investment, a spinoff of products,” he notes.

Steve says his CU undergraduate years helped him grow up, learn to be responsible for his own actions and figure out how to prioritize.

“I learned how the real world works,” he says. “It’s been a good test to learn to accomplish what you need to even with distractions.”

From systems and flight engineer with NASA working on the Shuttle Training Aircraft to being the guy who trains other astronauts for their missions, Steve’s jobs have kept him on the move. Although he hopes to go on another space mission, he’s working on other technical jobs involving spacewalks and as a spacecraft communicator.

“There’s always something new each day,” he notes.

The job requires Steve and his family to live in Houston. His three children enjoy watching his missions but don’t like the launches. He doesn’t Tweet from space but does phone home.

“Oh, yeah, mom, I forgot to tell you dad called,” he chuckles, remembering a very long-distance conversation with his daughter while on his first mission.