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Astronaut who died on shuttle Columbia will be honored with mural in NY hometown

By ROBIN CAUDELL | Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y. | Published: September 26, 2020

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) – U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson's life arcs across Plattsburgh.

He was born Christmas Day 1959 to Bobbie and Barbara Anderson in the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Hospital.

He was assigned as an instructor pilot and tactics officer in PAFB 380th Air Refueling Wing from September 1992 to February 1995.

Last year, an exhibit honoring his sacrifice was installed in the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum.

Now, “Reach for the Stars! The Michael Anderson Mural” by artist Brendon Palmer-Angell, will grace the side of the Westelcom Building on 23 Durkee Street as the 12th mural of Outside Art: Plattsburgh Public Art Project.

“When we were done with the Jean Arthur (mural) last year, Amy came to me about doing another mural and she mentioned Michael Anderson as a candidate,” Palmer-Angell said.

“We talked about it over the year and got more and more excited about it.”

On Feb. 1, 2003, Anderson and his six fellow STS-107 crew members – Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, David Brown and Ilan Ramon, Israel's first astronaut – were killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the craft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, according to NASA's website.

Anderson served as the payload commander and Lt. Col. in charge of science experiments on the Columbia shuttle.

He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Anderson's survivors included his wife, Sandra Hawkins, and his daughters, Kaycee and Sydney.

“I talked to Sandy a couple of weeks ago,” Palmer-Angell said.

“It was great talking to her. She said how Michael appeared in the photos is how he was in life, really kind, humble, unassuming guy. She was just so sweet, too. She remembered Plattsburgh really fondly, her time on the base. It was a real nice connection, We talked about it (mural). She said she trusted me on the imagery.”

Outside Art will work in partnership with the Clinton County Historical Association, the Old Base Museum Campus, and the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum to produce this mural.

There is a GoFundMe page for the project.

"CCHA is proud to support the Michael Anderson mural, and we look forward to working on future projects to honor his heroic legacy, which is a shining example to Plattsburgh, to America, and to the world,” Luke Cyphers, a board member, said in a press release.

“We are so excited to celebrate the legacy of astronaut Michael Anderson in Plattsburgh,” Julia Devine, Outside Art co-founder, said.

“We hope this mural will inspire a new generation of stargazers. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) is for everyone. Our youth should know that astronauts do come from Plattsburgh!”

“We are thrilled to work with CCHA, the Old Base Museum, Campus, and the PAFB Museum,” Amy Guglielmo, Outside Art co-founder, said.

“This is the perfect way to honor those who served at PAFB and encourage people to reach for the stars. We are happy to welcome Brendon back home again.”

Col. Joseph McNichols (USAF Retired) was the 380th Air Refueling Wing operations group commander in charge of all the aviators and maintenance personnel at the base when Anderson was assigned to PAFB flying the KC135.

“He said, 'There's always that unknown,'” McNichols said.

“He was talking about making it through take-off. He didn't think he would blow up in space. In airplanes, it's called the critical 11 minutes. It's take-off plus 3, landing minus 8 where 90 percent of whatever of accidents occur in either the take-off phase or the landing phase. In airplanes the rule of 11, and he was worried just about taking off. He was the payload commander on the mission.”

Anderson was the only pilot in the 40-year history of PAFB who ever became an astronaut.

“He was ecstatic when he got assigned to astronaut school,” McNichols said.

“He was one of 19 selected out of 2,962 applicants to NASA.”

At PAFB, Anderson flew the KC-135s, and McNichols, an FB-111A pilot, flew with him and describes him as “Scary Smart.”

“There are people who are like that, and he wasn't pompous about it,” McNichols said.

“You're sitting there, and it's like man, I don't want to argue with this guy.

McNichols wrote Anderson a letter of recommendation to fulfill his lifelong dream of going into space.

Anderson logged 593 space hours along with his earthbound 3,000 hours.

“At the end of the day, that's easy,” McNichols said.

“You say, smart guy, good aviator. The things that got him selected are whatever his master's degree thesis was, and it had something to do with the shuttle. I remember he showed it to me one time, and I couldn't even read the title of it. That's just the way the guy was.

“Like I said, he was good. His timing was right. He got to do what a lot of people would like to do but don't get an opportunity. It's unfortunate that his landings don't equal his take-offs.”

Palmer-Angell searched through NASA's archives of photos of Anderson and found the one for his second mural in Plattsburgh.

“It's one where he's in his flight suit, I believe about to go up for the Columbia mission,” he said.

“They are checking all the systems on his suit, but he just looks so happy. It really struck me as a moment of pure joy for him.”

Thursday afternoon, Palmer-Angell troubleshooted technical difficulties with his lift to reach his brick canvas.

“Brick is tricky, but I will prime it so it will have one solid color,” he said.

“ A lot of times for me, it's just a portrait but this one includes his space helmet, the Earth, the clouds one the Earth and a star field with a shuttle in the background.”

The artist has been working exclusively in his New Orleans studio since the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Almost all the murals I had planned for this year were either pushed back or canceled,” he said.

“So, it's been a weird year for art, but I'm so happy to be back on the wall in my hometown again.”

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

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