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Q&A: Aggie in orbit

Former student prepares for third stint in ISS

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 22:01



Steven Swanson, who earned his doctorate at A&M, will soon make his third trip to the International Space Station.

Steven Swanson, NASA astronaut, will be making his third trip to the International Space Station on March 25. Swanson received his doctorate in computer science from Texas A&M. On his two previous trips to the ISS, Swanson and his team spent two weeks in space. This mission, using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, will last for five and a half months. He spoke with Jennifer Reiley, Battalion city editor, on Tuesday.

THE BATTALION: Why did you want to be an astronaut?
SWANSON: That’s a good question. I didn’t even think about it until I finished my master’s, and that’s when I decided about what I wanted to do in my life. I always knew I was interested in science and engineering and of course I got degrees in that, but I really hadn’t thought about — in great detail — exactly what I wanted to do. And then I thought about I wanted something that’s mentally challenging and I want something that can be physically challenging, and also if I could get some adventure in there, and all that kind of stuff led to being an astronaut.

THE BATTALION: What was something unexpected that happened on your first trip into space?
SWANSON: For us, an issue was we had a tear in our thermal blanket on the shuttle — we had to repair that. That was different. We also had issues with the Russian computers on the space station when we were attached to the space station. They failed and it caused lots of interesting things that we had to do. Those were two little issues that we had, but overall it was a pretty smooth mission. It was a great amount of fun.

THE BATTALION: What’s your favorite thing about going into space?
SWANSON: The launch of course is a fantastic ride — it’s quite exciting. My favorite thing is just being in space and the whole floating aspect of it. I just have a great time doing it. It’s like being a kid and finding the best playground in the world and just getting to play on it all day long.

THE BATTALION: What will be the main difference going to space for five and a half months versus going for two weeks?
SWANSON: I think the main difference is really getting to adapt and learn what it’s like to live in space. For two weeks on a shuttle mission, you can kind of just cruise along and not really have to adapt fully. You can make anything work for two weeks. When you live there for five and a half months, you’re going to really have to adapt completely and become very comfortable in that environment. That’s the big difference. It’s going to be like living in a country for half a year versus visiting a country for two weeks. The difference is tremendous.

THE BATTALION: Will you be able to contact your family while you’re up there?
SWANSON: Yes. We have the ability to make some phone calls now and then, which is great. I’ll even get a video teleconference once a week with my family, and we do email of course.

THE BATTALION: You’ve said before that you like to spend time camping. If it would be possible in the future, would you consider camping in space?
SWANSON: That’s an interesting idea. Going into space is sort of like camping itself. We sleep in sleeping bags; we eat food that is very similar to camping food. It’s just in a different environment. You don’t have all the comforts of living at home and that’s similar to camping, just the job we do is a little bit different. We’re doing science versus hiking, fishing and all that. I guess it would be kind of fun to go off someplace on another planet and set up a pseudo-tent that we could use and hang out there for a while.

THE BATTALION: If you hadn’t become an astronaut, what would you do?
SWANSON: I would definitely still be in the science and engineering field somewhere, probably living up in the mountains and enjoying that area. I don’t know what exactly I’d be doing. If I could find some kind of job with science and engineering in the outdoors, that would be probably best for me.

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