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Michael Anderson
Spokane astronaut lived dream

Michael Anderson
Aboard the space shuttle Columbia on Jan. 24, astronaut Michael Anderson, the payload commander, prepares a bicycle ergometer for a respiratory-monitoring system experiment. Anderson was among the seven astronauts killed yesterday.
Michael Anderson's space dreams began with Will Robinson, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock; a bunk bed that launched him out of Spokane and into orbit; and deluxe moon homes for his sister's Barbie dolls.

The dreams grew up with Anderson, stretching beyond two shuttle missions and a rendezvous with the space station. He wanted to push deeper through space and challenge the cosmos.

He wanted to fly to Mars.

Space, though, took Anderson first.

He died yesterday morning aboard the shuttle Columbia when it exploded 200,000 feet above Texas.

He died while his parents watched on separate television sets in their North Spokane home.

Huddled in his robe in the basement family room, Anderson's father, Bobbie, watched the re-entry about 6 a.m., the streaks in the Texas sky, and heard the stark message from Mission Control that Columbia had been lost.

"I couldn't hardly grab onto it because it happened so fast," said Bobbie Anderson, 68.

Upstairs, Anderson's mother watched the news from bed.

"It's like a shadow crossed over me," she said yesterday afternoon.

Anderson was 43, had grown up in a military family and had been married for 14 years to Sandra Hawkins. They have two daughters, 9 and 11, and live in Houston. He always considered Spokane his hometown, though. He met his wife at church there. His parents and in-laws still live there.

The Spokane area has hailed him as a hometown hero, particularly the city's small African-American population. He was one of four blacks in his Cheney High School graduating class of about 200.

A few days before Columbia's Jan. 16 launch, Bobbie and Barbara Anderson flew to Houston to see Michael before he went to Florida to begin final preparations for the mission.

Michael told his father, a former teacher at Fairchild Air Force Base's survival school, that he was eager to get into space. The flight had been previously delayed.

As much as he yearned to fly, Anderson's knowledge of spacecraft gave him a realistic sense of the risks. But that was tempered by the security he felt from a long-held faith in God.

Bobbie Anderson said it was obvious from their time together in Houston that Michael had no qualms about the launch.

The two hugged, and Michael told his father that he'd prayed and "everything was right with the Savior."

His parents shared his confidence but were aware of the risk.

"I accepted it because it was such a joy to him. He was so full of feeling for flying, I had to rejoice for him, even though I knew it had danger," Barbara Anderson said.

Michael Anderson told his daughters that one day the space shuttle might not return him to Earth.

"Michael was a good father. He tried to prepare them for this," Anderson's mother-in-law, Mabel Hawkins, told The Associated Press. "He sat them down and told them all the things that could happen, that might happen."

Anderson was born in New York. The family moved to Spokane when he was 11.

He shared his love of space with his sister. Brenda Danielly told The Spokesman Review in Spokane that when Michael was young they'd take imaginary trips to the moon on the top of the bunk bed, and when she played with Barbies, he'd construct futuristic moon homes for the dolls.

He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy in 1981 and got an advanced degree in physics from Creighton University in Omaha in 1990.

He was a pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Air Force with more than 3,000 hours in conventional aircraft.

Anderson was in the crew of a 1998 Endeavour shuttle mission that docked with Mir, the Russian space station. He was the payload commander on the Columbia with responsibility for the hundreds of science experiments on board.

Anderson's sister Joanne told CNN yesterday she was in shock about the news of her brother. But while refusing to believe what she had heard on TV, she said she was proud of what her brother had done.

"The United States of America has many, many problems racism is one of them," she said, "but only in America could he have achieved what he did achieve."

Anderson was humble about his accomplishments. His father had to learn of his son's military promotions through paperwork sent to their North Spokane home.

Anderson didn't like taking off on the shuttle. Waiting on the pad was "nerve-wracking," he told a UW alumni magazine. The G-forces needed to get into orbit felt like "three Michael Andersons pushing on my chest," he told Spokane schoolchildren during a class visit in February 1988, soon after his first mission.

Shortly before the launch of Columbia, Anderson talked about the inherent risks of space flight.

"We train and try to prepare for the things that may go wrong to do the best we can, but there's always that unknown," he said.

About five days ago, Anderson called his wife from the shuttle.

"He told her he'd like to stay up there for four or five more days," Bobbie Anderson said.

In an interview before the mission, Michael Anderson described the feeling of returning to the Earth's atmosphere.

"Entries are a little bit better than launch. It's a little quieter. It's not quite as violent," he told A&S Perspectives, the UW magazine for the College of Art and Sciences. "And you can enjoy it a little bit.

"On this flight entry, I'm just going to sit down in my seat and, hopefully, reflect on the 16 days in orbit that we've had."

He died on re-entry yesterday, 38 miles above Texas, when the shuttle Columbia exploded minutes before its scheduled landing, leaving religious faith to comfort his family.

"I know he died doing exactly what he liked to do," his father said.

"He had a short life but a full life," said Barbara Anderson.

— David Postman and Jonathan Martin, with Cheryl Phillips, Craig Welch and Miyoko Wolf, The Seattle Times


Position: Payload commander
Military rank: U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel
Age: 43
Hometown: Considers Spokane, Washington, his hometown
Education: Bachelor of science in physics and astronomy, University of Washington, 1981; master of science in physics, Creighton University, 1990
Family: Married; two children
Spaceflight experience: STS-89, shuttle-Mir mission, 1998
Fact: As a kid, he loved science-fiction shows, including "Star Trek" and "Lost in Space." home
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