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Sat, Mar 08, 2003

RIP: Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson

Columbia Astronaut Michael Anderson Buried At Arlington National Cemetery

The little girls flinched when they heard the sound of gunfire shatter the reverent silence at Arlington National Cemetery. One hugged her teddy bear. Both, along with friends and family, each laid a single rose on the coffin of STS-107 Mission Specialist Michael P. Anderson.

Neighbors For Eternity

Just a few steps away from the freshly dug grave, the solemn ceremony and the grieving family, lies the grave of Dick Scobee, commander of the shuttle Challenger, which exploded 17 years ago.

About 100 mourners endured cold temperatures and blustery winds at the hilltop grave site, where Anderson, 43, was given final, full military honors.

"I'm Just Going On Higher"

An Air Force lieutenant colonel and pilot, he had tried to prepare those close to him for this moment.

"If this thing doesn't come out right, don't worry about me; I'm just going on higher," Anderson is said to have told his minister just before leaving on his second and final visit to space aboard Columbia.

And before blasting off on his second and final space flight, he tried to warn Kaycee, 9, and Sydney, 13, of "all the things that could happen," mother-in-law Mabel Hawkins told The Columbian newspaper of Vancouver, Wash.

Anderson had craved his NASA job since he was a boy in Spokane (WA). He attended the University of Washington and Creighton University and pilot training in the Air Force.

In 1994, NASA chose Anderson to train as one of its few African-American astronauts. He had become an instructor pilot and tactics officer in the 380 Refueling Wing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base (NY).

He visited the Mir space station in 1998 and afterward declared to his wife, Sandra: "I'm a lifer. I want to go back."

Mourners wiped away tears as they watched Air Force and NASA officials carry out their official burial duties.

A KC-135 Stratotanker - refueling boom extended - overflew the site in a tribute to Anderson, the same model he piloted as an instructor before taking his NASA assignment in 1995.

Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe presented Anderson's widow, Sandra, with the Defense Distinguished Service and the NASA Space Flight medals.

A seven-member firing party rendered a "volley of three" shots in tribute, followed by the sounding of "Taps." The little girls shied away for a moment, then resumed mourning their lost father.


FMI: www.nasa.gov

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