(NNPA) - One of the astronauts who lost their lives when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it descended to land near the completion of its 16-day mission, was one of nine African-Americans to ever go into space. (NNPA) - One of the astronauts who lost their lives when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it descended to land near the completion of its 16-day mission, was one of just nine African-Americans to ever go into space.
Lt. Col Michael P. Anderson, 43, died along with six other astronauts Saturday morning, as the shuttle explosion strewed pieces of hot metal and toxic rubbish across hundreds of miles of Texas and Louisiana. He once described his job as being “to tackle the unknown, and take part in man’s greatest adventure.”
On this latest exploration into space, Anderson, the crew’s lone African-American member, was the mission’s payload commander, responsible for managing the scientific experiments conducted aboard the Columbia. In his last national interview, with National Public Radio’s Tavis Smiley, Anderson said that the space program had a “really bright” future for African-Americans, with three Black astronauts scheduled to fly on shuttle missions in the coming year. The interview took place on Wednesday, Jan. 29, Col. Anderson and Columbia pilot Willie McCool answered questions from space.
Anderson said that astronauts Robert Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham and Stephanie Wilson were all in line to take shuttle flights on various missions.
“It looks like the future’s really bright,” Anderson said. But in the past he has admitted that being Black has been a challenge as he moved through the steps necessary to become an astronaut.
“Throughout life, every individual faces challenges. The key to facing those challenges is having confidence and faith in yourself,” Anderson said in a NASA sponsored Web cast in March 2000. “Instead of giving up, I always looked for an open window of opportunity. You have take advantage of those windows. Whatever obstacles face you, don’t let them stop you. Be willing to work hard to get all the tools you need so you can take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.”
While the astronauts get a lot of the recognition, the experiments being conducted on the Columbia mission would have also benefited African-Americans, he said. The scientists on board were growing prostate cancer cell in a bioreactor on the shuttle in order to study the disease, which disproportionately affects Black men.
“Hopefully, from some of the research we’re doing up here, we can really help out in those areas,” Anderson told Smiley. “So far, I have to tell you, we’ve been really pleased with what we’re seeing. We’re exceeding almost all of our expectations, and we’re getting some really good science.”
Col. Anderson had one other space flight under his belt, a 1998 journey to the space station aboard space shuttle Endeavor. On that flight the shuttle crew docked with the Russian Space Station Mir and delivered more than 9,000 pounds of supplies and equipment, as well as exchanged U.S. astronauts.
With more than 211 hours in space, Anderson was among the most experienced of the crew members. He, Commander Rick D. Husband and Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla were the only members of the crew with more than one space flight. It had been nearly five years since Col. Anderson flew in space. Since then he said he’s been more than ready to go back.
“I’m ready to go right now. Sign me up and I’ll go any time,” he said in the 2000 Web chat. “The first thing I thought about when I got to space was the fact that all of these years of hard work and training had paid off. My dream had finally come true,” he wrote in that web cast. “I think dreams are very important. You should find out what your dream is and pursue it. When we went from the gravity of earth to the zero gravity of space, I knew my dream had come true. When you look back at Earth and see how beautiful it is, you realize how special it is. I felt very honored and blessed to be allowed and being able to travel into space and see