UI flag makes its way to space
The Discovery's STS-119 launched March 15 carrying not only astronauts, but a purple duck, chocolate bar and various flags, including the University of Idaho's.
While the chocolate bars and purple duck were other astronaut's mementos, astronaut Steve Swanson carried the UI flag in honor of his nephew, Greg Swanson, a student who is currently getting his master's degree in electrical engineering in Moscow.
The main mission of the STS-119 crew members was to install solar arrays to the International Space Station, which powers the station. Swanson's uncle is the lead extra-vehicular activities crew member, meaning he handles any activity that involves leaving the crew's orbital cabin. Swanson conducted three EVA's this mission.
"The mission was completed with the first spacewalk," Greg Swanson said. "Now the space station can support six people, the number that will be going next."
While the mission itself was complicated, getting UI's flag into space seemed fairly easy.
"My uncle approached me and asked me if I thought it was a good idea," Swanson said. "I said, 'do it.'"
Swanson said his uncle had taken different mementos into space previously such as his grandmother's ring. This time Swanson took something meaningful for not only him and his family, but an entire community.
"I think the university's flag going up in space will be fun for the community as a whole," said Angela Farnham-Banks, with the Idaho Space Grant Consortium program at UI.
The ISGC is NASA's Idaho program that funnels research and funds into science, technology, engineering and math. Swanson is also associated with this program and feels space exploration is losing popularity.
"It feels like space exploration has become a routine thing for people," Swanson said. "It really is a miracle every time we go into space. This is a good way for the community to remember that even though we are small, we can still get involved."
The flag will be returning to Earth with the astronauts Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flag will then be presented to the dean of the College of Engineering and the director of NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium at the Engineering EXPO Dean's Reception on April 30 at the Best Western University Inn in Moscow.
"The flag will come with a certificate telling how long the flag was in space, how far it traveled and the crew members aboard the shuttle," Swanson said.
Swanson is also NASA's International Year of Astronomy Ambassador and has done internships with NASA.
"I travel to different schools and present how space travel and certain crafts are doing," Swanson said.
An even bigger project would include Swanson's work on a censor program for the new Orion Craft, the predecessor of the space shuttle. Plans for being an astronaut like his uncle are also in his future.
"I'm keeping the astronaut position open," Swanson said. "I'll probably pursue my doctorate anyone that goes on mission probably has a doctorate."
When asked what memento Swanson would take into space he laughed and said, "Taking the flag may be kind of redundant, but I'll probably take something from the University of Idaho."