Team Fairchild remembers Lt. Col. Michael Anderson

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut!"

While most children dream of flying into space, Lt. Col. Michael Anderson made his dream a reality.

Sadly that dream came to an end Feb. 1, 2003. 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 His accomplishments were numerous and he showed that nothing should get in the way of a person's goals.

Michael Anderson Elementary School on Fairchild is named in his honor. The school held an assembly Jan. 31, marking the tenth anniversary of the Columbia disaster. Anderson actually attended the school in 1977 when it was still known as Blair Elementary School.

"We wanted our students to learn about Michael Anderson and space exploration," said Melanie Kilgore, the emcee at the ceremony. "Lt. Col. Anderson believed in the importance of education. He followed his dreams and is a role model to every student here."

Col. Brian Newberry, the 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander, spoke at the event, calling Anderson "a patriot and adventurer."

"Lt. Col. Anderson represents the spirit of adventure," Newberry told the crowd of students, faculty and members of Team Fairchild. "It's up to all of you to carry that torch forward. As we look to the future, any of you could be the next astronauts. It could be any of you visiting Mars."

Lt. Col. Dwight Peake, the 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, served with Anderson during an assignment with NASA. According to him, Anderson was always friendly and excited about being an astronaut. He paid respects to his friend and colleague by wearing his old NASA flightsuit in Anderson's honor.

Students paid their tributes with essays about space exploration, drawings and a timeline of Anderson's life stretching down one of the hallways. In addition, the school's news production team created a special edition of their broadcast recounting the life of their school's namesake.

Anderson 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 two or three years old, according to his mother, Barb, who attended the event.

"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, Michael Anderson always had his sights set on being an astronaut, according to Barb.

"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," she 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, 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, 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, libraries and even an asteroid are named after him.

Included in the nationwide memorials is a life-size statue of 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.

His other awards and honors included:

- Distinguished graduate USAF Communication Electronics Officers course
- Recipient of the Armed Forces Communication Electronics Associations Academic Excellence Award 1983
- USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training Academic Achievement Award for Class 87-08
- Defense Superior Service Medal
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster.

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.

"Lt. Col. Anderson considered this to be his home," Newberry said, "and we will never forget him."

(Senior Airman Christine Putz contributed to this article.)