NASA Podcasts

In Their Own Words: Steve Swanson
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SLATE: When did you decide to become an astronaut?

SWANSON: I didn't decide to become an astronaut until after I finished up my master's. I always liked engineering and I knew I wanted to work in that field and I got a degree in engineering as an undergraduate then went on and got a degree in computer science. When I got out of that, though, I realized, 'I probably need to get a job at some point,' the goal of going to school. And I started to think about what I really wanted to do at that point, you know, specifically in engineering and in that area and somehow the astronaut thing popped up in my head. Though I don't know exactly what it was that made it go in there, but I said, 'Well I'll give that a try.' Doesn't hurt to give it a try. And 11 years later I finally made it. It was definitely well worth it, though.

SLATE: How did your life change when you became an astronaut?

SWANSON: Not a whole heck of a lot. I was working at JSC already in the aircraft operations department. So I didn't have to move houses, I didn't have to do much else, I just changed over jobs. I mean, yes, my day-to-day job changed quite a bit. I now work, I'm going back to school, basically a year or two years' worth of basic training between the shuttle and the station, so that's what you go back and you start studying again. But besides that, family life didn't change a bit, nothing else really changed.

SLATE: How is the view different between the shuttle and during a spacewalk?

SWANSON: You feel more protected, I believe, inside the spaceship. In the window, of course, you don't get a full view. More of a 360 degree view you get in a spacesuit. Of course, I haven't been up since the cupola's been there, that's a different story, I'd like to find out how that is. But it's definitely a different view. It's a great view, though, from the shuttle itself and from station windows. It's fantastic, you can sit there and look out for hours. But it's just, add another whole layer to it when you do it in a spacesuit and, you know, you're in your own little space vehicle and you've got this great view and you can look from horizon to horizon without much effort and it's just you out in space. It's kind of a very interesting feeling. A myriad of feelings come onto you at a time, you know? One, you have to get your job done, so you really have to concentrate on that, too. But then you look down and you see this beautiful Earth and that's a little overwhelming in itself and you realize, 'I'm in a vacuum, too,' which is a little dangerous, you know, so there's many feelings going on at the same time. But the one that overrides all the others, of course, is get the job done, because you don't want to screw up.

SLATE: What was your biggest surprise in space?

SWANSON: Everybody tells you how great it is to go to space and then when you get there it's even better. I think that's it, how much better it is than people say because you never really believe them all. You say, 'Yeah, you're just saying that just cause it's great to go and all that,' and it is great to go. You think, 'Yeah.' When you get there, to me it was just so much fun, the whole floating and doing everything like that and you're just working there. I just really, really enjoyed it and I didn't realize how much I would enjoy it.

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