One of our own named to fly in space

Monday, October 23, 2006

There's an old story about the time astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. flew into McCook on business only to be alarmed by a crowd of kids waiting at the terminal.

As it turned out, America's first man in space shouldn't have worried about his privacy. The kids, at the airport for an appearance of a TV spaceman, Major Astro, didn't notice the real spaceman walk by.

Shepard's visit, to a potential oil investment, was depicted in the HBO series, "From the Earth to the Moon." According to the segment, it was during a visit to McCook that he first experienced the inner-ear problem that grounded him for the rest of the 1960s, before a surgery returned him to flight status and a trip to the moon.

St. Francis is proud to be the birthplace of another Apollo astronaut, Ron Evans, and many other Kansans have participated in the space program. Nebraska connections to NASA are rare enough, however, that the naming of a Cornhusker for a trip into space is something to be proud of.

Several of us at the newspaper were privileged to hear just such a person, Clayton C. Anderson, speak at a press convention a few years back, and have been keeping an eye open for news about "our" astronaut.

That word came last week when Anderson was named to Expedition 15 to the International Space Station, set to launch on Space Shuttle Endeavour's STS-118 mission on June 2007.

A look at Anderson's biography reveals just how much dedication, talent and hard work goes into landing a seat in the Space Shuttle, let alone a stay in the ISS, as Anderson has done.

Born in Omaha and calling Ashland home, Anderson graduated from Ashland-Greenwood High School in 1977, earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Hastings College in 1981, and graduated from Iowa State University with a master of science degree in aerospace engineering in 1983.

He joined the Johnson Space Center that year, working out rendezvous and trajectory details for early Space Shuttle and Space Station missions, and also worked on the Galileo and Magellan planetary missions and eventually became chief of the Flight Design Branch of NASA before being named an astronaut in 1998.

Think of it: 30 years of hard work while waiting for a chance to fly into space.

It's been a long time since most of us were excited enough about space flight to drag our parents to the airport for a chance to see a pretend astronaut.

Perhaps the knowledge that one of our own is circling overhead in that moving star that is the International Space Station will provide the inspiration for Nebraska's next generation of explorers, decades in the future.

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