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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Astronaut Steven Swanson retells stories from his recent voyage to the International Space Station

Steve+Swanson%2C+who+received+his+doctorate+from+A%26amp%3BM+in+1998%2C+returned+safely+to+Earth+Sept.+11+after+spending+six+months+aboard+the+International+Space+Station.%0APhoto+provided.
Steve Swanson, who received his doctorate from A&M in 1998, returned safely to Earth Sept. 11 after spending six months aboard the International Space Station. Photo provided.

Nikita Redkar, Battalion news reporter, sat down with astronaut Steve Swanson, Class of 1998, to discuss his recent six-month stint at the International Space Station.
THE BATTALION: How did your voyage start? Can you describe taking off and docking on to the space station?
Swanson: We launched from Kazahkstan in a Russian Soyuz rocket. Normally, the whole process was planned to take six hours to get from launch to station, but we had malfunction in the software. It ended up taking a total of 52 hours to get off the ground and be docked onto the station.
THE BATTALION: How did this expedition differ from earlier missions?
Swanson: The first two were short, two weeks each. On those missions, we were tasked to build a big part of the station that included a solar ray. This last trip, I was a member of the ISS crew, which meant doing mostly science and maintaining the station. And sometimes the occasional spacewalk.
THE BATTALION: What exactly is a spacewalk?
Swanson: A spacewalk means going outside the space station, so you’re entering the vacuum of space. We enter the airlock and pump clean air out of the airlock. Then once it’s equal to the pressure of the vacuum, we open the hatch and emerge into space. Then we fix whatever we need to fix and come back on inside and close the hatch. After repressing the atmosphere back up, we come back inside. It sounds easy enough, but it takes a lot of time to get ready for it. The suit takes days to prepare and the morning of, it’ll take five hours just to get suited up. The spacewalk I recently did had the mission to fix a broken computer outside.
THE BATTALION: How did your responsibilities change when your were promoted from member of this mission to commander of the ISS?
Swanson: I became responsible for coordinating communication with scientists ‘on ground’ and making sure we were on the right task going forward. Also, in case of any emergencies, I had to be the one to take charge and be directing procedures. Most of our schedules were dictated from the ground, but I was the one responsible for making sure everyone did their jobs.
THE BATTALION: How did you adapt to the environment of space?
Swanson: We would workout two hours everyday. We did an hour lifting weights to keep muscles and bones from having loss. We did an hour of cardio on a bike or treadmill. We have a harness that holds us on to the treadmill and keep us from floating away. Some internal health concerns are also there. For example, your inner ear balance changes because it no longer has a gravity sensor. Feels wonderful in orbit but when you come back to Earth, you feel really wobbly. Overall there were no major concerns, and we came back pretty strong.
THE BATTALION: How does Earth look from space? And were you able to see any weather patterns?
Swanson: Earth looks great. When we got a little bit of free time, there’s a big window we would go to and we’d get this great view of Earth. Turned out to be one of my biggest pastimes, just looking at the Earth. And we can see weather patterns and fronts on Earth. We saw multiple hurricanes and typhoons, it’s very easy to pick out where the weather is bad and where it’s good from up there.
THE BATTALION: What was a typical day aboard the ISS?
Swanson: We’d get up in the morning and start off with the usual brushing teeth and shaving, except it was a little differently done since we had no running water. Then we’d begin by talking to the ground about the day’s planned activities. You never have the same tasks every day. At the end of the day, we ate dinner, got an hour or two off-duty time, then finally I’d go to bed, get up the next day and do it again.
THE BATTALION: What was the most memorable day on board?
Swanson: Lots of days are memorable. Once, we came up with an idea to duel with Nerf dart guns. First time we played, we had trouble finding the darts because they’d float off after they were shot. So we began with only one dart and started at different ends of the station. We’d float toward each other, and the first to hit the other person wins. We came up with many games like that. The absence of gravity made for the best playground in the world. The best part: you can do a flip whenever you want.

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