Michael Anderson Elementary students gathered Thursday to pay tribute to their school's namesake in a special assembly a day before the 10th anniversary of his death aboard the shuttle Columbia in 2003.
The Columbia, on its 28th flight, disintegrated during re-entry in the skies over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003. All seven crewmembers aboard were killed, including a Cheney High School graduate, Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, who was serving as the payload commander for STS-107.
Many of the kids at the school named for him weren't alive when he died 10 years ago, but that doesn't mean the students don't know who he is.
Among those in attendance at the assembly was a special guest: Barbara Anderson, Michael's mom.
"Thinking about this time of year, you know it's not easy, but when I see something like this, it brings joy because I know he would be very pleased to know this is happening because of him," she said.
Anderson spent much of his childhood in this area and considered Spokane his hometown. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 and was commissioned in the Air Force. He went on to flight school and learned to fly the KC-135 tanker. Selected by NASA as an astronaut in December 1994, he reported for training in March 1995.
Three years later, Anderson flew his first space mission, STS-89, aboard Endeavour, as a mission specialist. STS-107 was his second flight into space. In what turned out to be one of the last times he was seen alive, he did an interview with KXLY while on orbit aboard Columbia, talking about reaching for the stars like he did.
"I would like to tell him that if you are living in Spokane and in the Cheney area, you got some very good schools, very good programs around there, and just apply yourself, then just work hard and be persistent and don't give up, you can achieve anything you want to achieve," Anderson said.
Anderson's message rings true today for the young students at the school named after him, who work to keep his legacy alive, for which his mom was appreciative after attending the assembly in her son's honor.
"It was great, it was great and it was a beautiful service, I think … I didn't expect that much but it was nice," she said.