Steamboat astronaut Steve Swanson glad to be back on Earth after nearly half a year in space
Steamboat Springs — There can’t be too many other people here on Earth who are enjoying sipping beers, spending time with family and sitting down to watch football games as much as Steve Swanson is right now.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to do these things you haven’t been able to do for almost six months,” the Steamboat Springs astronaut said Tuesday as he reflected on his recent journey to the International Space Station. “It’s great to be back.”
On Sept. 11, Swanson roared back to Earth in a space capsule and landed in the plains of Kazakhstan at the end of a very memorable 169-day mission to space.
His beaming smile said it all.
“The ground was wonderful,” Swanson said. “It was nice to feel the weather again. My legs were a little wobbly when I walked, but I was happy. Life was great at that moment.”
In those first moments back on Earth, the commander of Expedition 40 had a lot to smile about.
He said his crew did more science up on the station than they originally had anticipated.
And between science experiments and a space walk on the Space Station, Swanson found plenty of time to give people here in his hometown several tastes of space with constant pictures, videos and communications back home.
“It was gratifying to see him back home in one piece smiling, and I’m sure he climbed out of that capsule with a hundred thousand stories to tell,” his mother-in-law, Chris Young, said Tuesday from her home in Steamboat. “We were thrilled to see what he accomplished. It’s kind of like a dream happened, and now it’s over and he’s not up there anymore. That’s his dream, and he lived it. Not many of us get to do that.”
Swanson on Tuesday reflected on his accomplishments and what it’s like to be back on Earth.
Here’s what he had to say:
What do you think was your biggest accomplishment in space?
“The science is what we’re up there for, and we did much more science than was originally planned for us,” Swanson said. “We also had things break, and we spent more hours fixing things than anticipated. In a way, we were a very productive crew.”
Having stayed up in space for almost half a year, Swanson’s mission also will give NASA a better understanding of the long-term impact of space travel on humans.
Upon arrival home, he started undergoing a range of tests that continue today to measure the physical impact of space.
What were your most memorable days on the Space Station?
“Of course, doing the initial spacewalk was fun,” Swanson said. “And on some days, the auroras were just beautiful. Those were fantastic.”
Swanson also mentioned several science experiments and maintenance jobs on the Space Station as highlights.
He stayed plenty busy, doing such things as an interview with Colorado State University students and running part of the Wild West Relay from Fort Collins to Steamboat.
What’s it like being able to bring Steamboat memorabilia to the Space Station and represent your hometown up there?
“The way I look at it is, I got a lot from growing up in Steamboat. It’s a wonderful place, and it helped me get to where I am today,” Swanson said. “I wanted to be able to give a little back and take Steamboat with us on this journey.”
What was the difference between your first two space shuttle missions and this longer mission?
“On the shuttle missions, we were much busier because we were only up there for two weeks,” Swanson said.
He said the shuttle missions also had more of a single focus, like installing solar arrays on the Space Station.
“We knew exactly what we were going to be doing on those missions,” he said. “On this one, each morning you wake up and you don’t know exactly some of the stuff you’re going to be doing that day.”
There was a lot of tension between the United States and Russia while you were up there. Was that ever a factor on the mission?
“No, it didn’t have any influence on the mission,” Swanson said. “We became friends with our Russian crewmates a year and a half ago. We got along great with each other. There was no real issue.”
What’s it like to be back?
“We all miss some parts of being up there in space, but right now, I’m feeling great,” Swanson said.
Swanson mentioned spending time with family, the beer and football games as things he’s really appreciating about life back on Earth in the weeks after his return.
“The comforts of life people enjoy every day like fresh food, fresh vegetables and fruits is great,” he said. “I can go to the refrigerator and get a beer. I can watch football.”
What did you choose for that first meal upon your return?
“Bangers and mash,” Swanson said.
Upon landing on Earth, Swanson still had a lot of flying to do to get back to his home in Houston.
He said he ate that first post-mission meal during a refueling stop in Scotland.
On a second stop in Maine, it was pizza.
What’s next for you?
“Almost every astronaut wants to fly again, but it’s a big question,” Swanson said. “We have a rule around here. You don’t make a decision right after you land. You take some time to reflect on things.”