NEWS | Feb. 21, 2012

African American Gave Ultimate Sacrifice During Space Shuttle Mission


FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson was one of only a handful of African-American astronauts and was one of the seven crewmembers aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia when it exploded on re-entry just 16 minutes before its scheduled touchdown Feb. 1, 2003. His accomplishments were numerous, and he showed that nothing should get in the way of a person's goals, including their race.

He was born in December 1959, in Plattsburgh, N.Y. , but considered Spokane, Wash. , to be his hometown. His interest in and drive for becoming an astronaut started when he was just 2 or 3 years old, according to his father.

"He made model aircraft from the time he was a small boy until -- well, when he was at NASA, he was still making them," his mother said. "Science and aerospace, those were his things. "

From the shows he watched on television to the classes he later took in school, Anderson always had his sights set on being an astronaut, according to his parents.

"He set his sights on it, and I think everything he did after that was focusing in that direction, hoping that one day he would get it," his mother said. "And, it worked. "

He received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics/astronomy from the University of Washington in 1981, and also received his commission as a second lieutenant. He received his Master of Science degree in physics from Creighton University in 1990.

After completing a year of technical training at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. , he was assigned to Randolph AFB, Texas. At Randolph, he served as Chief of Communication Maintenance for the 2015th Communication Squadron and later as Director of Information System Maintenance for the 1920th Information System Group.

In 1986, he was selected to attend Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Okla. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Offutt AFB, Neb. as an EC 135 pilot, flying Strategic Air Command's airborne command post "Looking Glass. "

From January 1991 to September 1992, he served as an aircraft commander and instructor pilot in the 920th Air Refueling Squadron at Wurtsmith AFB, Mich. From September 1992 to February 1995, he was assigned as an instructor pilot and tactics officer in the 380th Air Refueling Wing in Plattsburgh AFB, N.Y. Anderson logged more than 3,000 hours in various models of the KC-135 and the T-38A aircraft.

Selected by NASA in December 1994, Anderson reported to the Johnson Space Center in March 1995. He completed a year of training and evaluation, and was qualified for flight crew assignment as a mission specialist. He was initially assigned technical duties in the Flight Support Branch of the Astronaut Office. Anderson flew on STS-89 and STS-107, logging more than 593 hours in space.

Because of his focus on education, numerous scholarships around the world have been set up in his name, as well as several schools and libraries named after him, including Michael Anderson Elementary at Fairchild AFB, Wash.

Included in the nation-wide memorials is a life-size statue of Col. Anderson in the middle of Riverfront Park, centered in the town he called home, Spokane. He is outfitted in his space suit and releasing a white dove -- representing peace and humility.

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.