It must certainly be extremely difficult for anyone of any age to lose a spouse when he or she dies. That grief must be compounded when the death is totally unexpected. Sandra Anderson, widow of Michael P. Anderson, who unexpectedly died aboard the spaceshuttle, Columbia in 2003, is comforted by faith that Michael is in a better place after his death because of his faith. She is also comforted by the fact that he died doing what he loved.
She recalls that Michael, before he was killed on the spaceshuttle, told his minister to not worry about him, because, “if this thing doesn’t come out right, I’m just going on higher (to heaven).” Anderson, who was buried next to the grave of Dick Scobee, who was killed in the shuttle Challenger tragedy 17 years earlier, had tried to prepare his daughters, Kaycee, 9 at the time and Sydney, 13 at the time, for the fact that “all things could happen” when flying into space.
Michael Anderson had craved the job of an astronaut since his childhood in Spokane, Washington. In 1994 he was selected by NASA to be trained as one of the few African American astronauts. He had become an instructor in pilot and tactics officer in the 380 Refueling Wing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
Before his death on the spaceshuttle, Michael Anderson had visited the Mir Space Station in 1998. Afterward he told Sandra he wanted to go back into space, because he was “a lifer.”
Sandra said her husband’s faith made him an unassuming man. He often would not tell anyone he was an astronaut unless someone asked him. Sandra finds comfort in the fact he was more committed to his faith and family than getting a name for himself.
“He was very committed to his faith, to our family, “Sandra Anderson recalled. “He was very unassuming.”
Sandra said she would not wish such a tragedy as Michael’s death on anyone, but that because of her faith and that of Michael, she knows he is in heaven now. She said she admired his total commitment to what he did.
Michael Anderson was born on Christmas in 1959 in Plattsburgh, New York. The son of an Air Force serviceman, he dreamed of being an astronaut since he got his first toy airplane. He made moon homes for his sisters’ Barbie dolls. Everything he did from the age of five was to prepare to be an astronaut.
Michael Anderson became a believer in Jesus Christ at the age of 12, and his faith was always extremely important to him after that. Some believe it was his faith that led him to be humble. He graduated with a degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Washington and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. After that, he enrolled at Creighton University to obtain a Master’s degree in physics. He never made a big deal of his education or his Air Force promotions, as his parents only found out about his promotions because of documents mailed to their house.
Michael Anderson had known Sandra since they were children in the same Sunday school class. It was years later when she was a nurse that romance blossomed. Michael Anderson and Rick Husband, who was also a Christian and also was killed on the same flight as Anderson, were in the same prayer group at church. Both Husband and Anderson may have talked of their faith, but they talked little of space flight, except to say that if anything happened to them, they wanted their wives and children taken care of.
When Michael Anderson applied for the space program, he did not apply to be a shuttle pilot, because such pilots do not get to walk in space, as he wanted to do. On the shuttle Endeavor in January 1988, he delivered 9,000 pounds of scientific equipment and dropped off a crewmember.
Michael’s faith was shown not only to his church and Sandra and his children, but also to his parents. Before the fatal flight, he told them he knew he had “everything right with my Savior.” He told them if anything happened they should not worry, because, “I’m just going on higher.”
Michael Anderson showed the kind of person he was not only through his faith to Sandra and their children, and his church, but also by visiting inner city schools in the African American community and black churches in the Houston area to share his story. He was also involved in the Bronze Eagles, which encourages young African Americans to pursue aviation careers.
Sandra Anderson, the widow of Michael Anderson, says that because of her faith the Lord has helped her and her girls to cope with the tragedy in their lives very well. She has had another difficult time of coping, however, because her mother died this year, and her father had a stroke. Her church has given her a lot of support. Sandra remembers that others from NASA are also grieving from the loss of loved ones.