Married to Air Force Lt. Col Michael Anderson, Payload Commander on Columbia
Mother to Sydney, 12, and Kaycee, 10
Lt. Col. Michael Anderson dreamed of space travel all his life. He was blessed to see his dreams come true. In spite of his stellar accomplishments, Sandra describes her husband as an unassuming man who loved the Lord. "He was very committed to his faith, to our family. He was very unassuming," she says. "He could have cared less if people knew he was an astronaut. In fact, we really didnt tell anybody. He just loved what he was doing." Soon after the explosion, Sandra shared that though she didnt wish this terrible tragedy on anyone, she was not in despair. "Its been hard, but I am not in despair because I know where Michael is," she says. She came to admire his total commitment to what he was doing. "He was just very focused," she says.
Born on Christmas Day, 1959, in Plattsburgh, N.Y., the son of an Air Force serviceman, Michael and his family moved to Spokane, Wash., when Michael was 11. Since the day he first got a toy airplane, Michael dreamed of the cosmos and space flight. Early on he memorized the names of most of the American astronauts. He crafted moon homes for his sisters Barbie dolls. His mother-in-law, Mabel Hawkins, says that everything he did from the age of five was to become an astronaut.
There were two pillars in Michael's life: his love of space and his faith. Coming from a strong Christian family in a small black community, Michael found a home in church, accepting Christ at age 12. Being one of only four black graduates in a high school class of 200, he was memorable for being a quiet, studious kid who wore a good-sized classic '70s Afro. He brought model planes to calculus class, explaining to other students how the planes worked and what size engine propelled them. The small-town atmosphere of Cheney, Wash., taught him to exist in a black world and a white world. His childhood friend Keith Flamer says, "Mike was good at being able to bridge all the worlds."
Michael graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in physics and astronomy and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. He later enrolled at Creighton University to get a masters degree in physics.
One of Michaels professors said that Michael didnt make a big deal out of things. He didnt even make a big deal out of big things. His parents found out about his Air Force promotions only because of documents sent to their home.
After 14 years in the Air Force, Michael applied for a coveted spot at NASA. He reported for duty to NASA in 1995. He didnt try to be a shuttle pilot because the pilots didnt get to space walk, which is what he wanted to do. His first trip to space came in January 1998 on the shuttle Endeavor. The mission went to the Mir Space Station to deliver 9,000 pounds of scientific equipment and to drop off a crewmember. The experience so profoundly affected him that Michael declared to Sandra when he returned, "Im a lifer. I want to go back."
Michael had known Sandra Hawkins from Sunday school classes back in middle school. It was years later, when he was in the Air Force and she was working as a nurse, that a romance blossomed. On a trip back home, he took her on a trip to Spokanes romantic parks. All of a sudden Sandra saw him in a different light, her mom says.
The Andersons were active members, along with the Husbands, at Grace Community Church. Michael and Rick were in the same prayer group. Sandra and Evelyn were prayer partners. Michael realized that God had given him a great gift. One of the men in Michaels prayer group observed that Michael prayed quietly. "He was very organized the way he prayed," Eddie Carroll says. There was little talk of space travel. But on occasion, Michael or Rick would say, "If something were to happen ." Eddie says, "Theyd never refer to it any other way than that. They wanted to make sure their children and wives were taken care of. They knew one little thing could go wrong, and theyre history."
As much as he yearned to fly, Michaels knowledge of the mission gave him a realistic sense of the risks. But that was tempered by the security he knew from a strong faith in God. His father, Bobbie Anderson, says Michael had no qualms about the launch. Shortly before the Columbia launch, Michaels parents flew to Houston to see him. He told his father, "I know I have everything right with my Savior." He had told his pastor, "If this thing doesnt come out right, dont worry about me: Im just going on higher."
Michael lived a disciplined life and was a "consummate astronaut." He often smiled. In addition to his special place in NASA and in the church, he also had one with the African-American community. He often visited inner-city schools and black churches in the Houston area to share his story. He became active in the Bronze Eagles, a group that encourages young blacks to pursue aviation careers.
Michael was often praised for his commitment to his family, Sandra and their two daughters, Sydney and Kaycee. He tried to prepare his daughters for the dangers of his profession. He told his daughters that one day the space shuttle might not return him to Earth, Mabel says. "He sat them down and told them all the things that could happen, that might happen," she says.
Sandra accepted Michaels dedication to his work. "Something I came to admire was his total commitment to whatever he was doing," she says. "He was just a person that was very focused." In the days following the accident, Sandra told their Houston congregation that she and their daughters were doing OK. She takes comfort from Michaels faith in Christ and accepts that everything was in Gods hands. There was the deep pain of grief for sure. But she said a seed had been planted with Michaels flight to space. "Were going to watch and see what grows and becomes of this," she says. "Im expecting good things."
Sandra Anderson says she and the girls are doing well. Shes amazed at how the Lord has helped them throughout the year and how He has been faithful. But its been a hard year for her because her mother died and her father had a stroke. The girls are back in school. The church and the school have given much support, and NASA has been with them constantly. "Their arms around us held us up," Sandra says. Sandra is reminded that others at NASA are also grieving the loss of family members, friends, and co-workers.
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