Astronaut Steve Swanson has lived all over the world. The Syracuse, N.Y., native attended University of Colorado before moving to Houston to work at NASA's Johnson Space Center. He's spent extended time training in Japan, and he's currently stationed in Russia.
But Swanson has never felt a culture shock like the one he'll get at his next home: the International Space Station.
NASA announced last week that Swanson has been named a crewmember on two future expeditions on the ISS, an internationally developed research station that orbits the earth about once every 90 minutes. Starting in March 2014, Swanson and five others will live on the station for six consecutive months as part of two overlapping expeditions. He will first serve as a flight engineer on Expedition 39, and then as a station commander on Expedition 40.
Swanson, 52, has been to space twice before, in 2007 and 2009, for a total of four weeks. He has not yet been assigned any specific experiments for when he's on the ISS, though he expects his time to be split between research and station maintenance.
"It varies a lot in the sense of what you do each day," he said. "We try to maximize the science part because that's what we're there for, but things break so we do spend quite a bit of time just to keep [the ISS] running."
On occasion, Swanson will venture out of the ISS to perform field research.
"To do a space walk is a wonderful thing," he said. "The view out there is just fantastic. There are all sorts of different emotions going on."
Swanson will work 12-hour shifts most days, and will even work about six hours on "off" days. When he's not working, he hopes to send emails, read, and watch TV shows sent up from mission control. But his favorite downtime activity is simply looking out the window.
"It's one of the biggest thrills you can get," Swanson said. "It makes me realize how many places I'd like to go visit."
David Klaus, an aerospace engineering professor at CU, interviewed with Swanson at NASA in 1997, and thinks he's a perfect fit for the ISS expeditions.
"He has this tenacity about him to do what it takes to get the job done. He's really a jack-of-all-trades," he said.
Swanson said that having a wealth of advanced skills is a must for any astronaut. His resume includes a master's degree in computer systems from Florida Atlantic University and a Ph.D, in computer science from Texas A&M University, plus years of NASA training.
But it all started in Boulder, where Swanson received a bachelor's degree in engineering physics.
"I got a great education there," Swanson said. "I met great people and really enjoyed my time."
He's not the only astronaut with a soft spot for Boulder. In fact, 20 CU-affiliated astronauts have been to space, two of whom have lived on the ISS.
"I like to joke that we're a mile closer to space than any other university," Klaus said, adding that the school's history with NASA is a major draw for applicants considering a career in the aerospace industry.
Swanson said that the view from the ISS reminds him of when he would look out at the snow-covered Flatirons in Boulder.
"They're different, but both beautiful," he said.
The views, along with his research and maintenance duties, will certainly keep Swanson occupied during his six months on the ISS. But that doesn't mean he won't long for a few earthly pleasures, such as family and friends.
"I'll miss the food, too," he said, noting that his favorite space meal is thermostablizied crawfish etouffee. He finds the dehydrated green bean casserole particularly nauseating.
But powdered, sodium-heavy food is a small price to pay when you get to work 250 miles above sea level.
"I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "It'll be like moving to a new country for six months, only higher up."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Alex Burness at 303-473-1361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.