Ten years ago today the nation mourned seven astronauts who were aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated over north Texas.
Among the astronauts was Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, an Inland Northwest native who attended Blair Elementary School on Fairchild Air Force Base and Cheney High School before starting the Air Force career that led him to NASA.
There are many memorials to Anderson scattered throughout Spokane and Cheney, but the memorials that are especially poignant for his mother are schools.
“I’m so proud schools across the country are named for his honor,” Barbara Anderson said Thursday at Michael Anderson Elementary on Fairchild Air Force Base. She said education was one of her son’s focal points and that he often talked about the importance of gaining an education to follow one’s dreams.
A replacement for the school that was once Blair Elementary was under construction at the time of the Columbia disaster. It was renamed for Anderson a few months later.
To honor Anderson’s spirit and mark the anniversary of his death, the school held a ceremony Thursday attended by students, teachers and guests Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild, and Lt. Col. (Dr.) Dwight Peake, of the 92nd Medical Group, who once worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
Newberry told the students Anderson was a patriot who dreamed of being an astronaut and adventurer. The commander said he was in Oklahoma 10 years ago and remembers seeing contrails in the sky from the Columbia.
“His spirit remains strong here in Fairchild,” Newberry said.
Peake, dressed in his old NASA flight suit, told the students he remembers each of the astronauts killed on the Columbia. He told students a little bit about each one, mentioning that Anderson was smart and brave.
Students in every grade have spent time learning about the man for whom the school was named and each grade worked on special projects for the occasion.
First-graders made construction paper rocket ships with their handprints and a picture of themselves. Second-graders made paper stars and wrote about what they want to be when they grow up. Fifth-graders explained the importance of space suits.
Jase Winner, a fourth-grader, led his parents, Rob and Lana, and other visitors on a tour of the school after the ceremony.
The boy, who made a drawing of one of Anderson’s medals for a timeline of his life, thought a bit when asked what impressed him the most about the astronaut.
“(It was) how many medals he earned from following what he wanted to do when he grew up,” Winner said.
After the tour, Winner met Anderson’s mother, almost speechless when he shook her hand.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” he told her.