Shuttle crew member Michael P. Anderson had tried to prepare his daughters for his darkest hour, should it come aboard the Columbia. On Friday, one hugging a teddy bear, they helped lay him to rest.
Anderson, who died Feb. 1, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery a few steps from the grave of Dick Scobee, the commander of the shuttle Challenger, which exploded 17 years earlier.
A blustery wind whipped the more than 100 mourners at the hilltop grave site, where Anderson, 43, was given full military honors.
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 the 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.
With official funeral duties over and a visit with President and Laura Bush still ahead, the graveside service became personal.
One by one, a dozen family members transferred single red roses from their own fingertips to the top of Anderson’s silvery casket.
Anderson had craved his job since childhood in Spokane, Wash. His sense of wonder took him from there to the University of Washington and Creighton University and pilot training in the Air Force.
By the time NASA selected Anderson in 1994 to train as one of its few black astronauts, he had become an instructor pilot and tactics officer in the 380 Refueling Wing at Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
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.
Out of the media’s earshot, Lt. Col Derek Green delivered a brief eulogy, and Chaplain Col. Richard Hum conducted a short graveside service.
A seven-member firing party rendered a “volley of three” shots in tribute, followed by the sounding of “Taps.”
Air Force Space Command Gen. Lance W. Lord knelt to present Anderson’s widow, Sandra, and parents, Barbara and Bobbie, with flags that had draped the caskets.