Local News

Shuttle Astronaut's Friends Remember His Smile, Passion For Space Flight

Posted February 3, 2003 5:29 a.m. EST

— Oscar and Phyllis Lewis knew Michael Anderson before he became an astronaut, or even a pilot.

The Lewises live in Cary. On Monday, they shared their memories of Anderson and the passion for space flight that took him on two shuttle missions.

To most Americans, Anderson was one of seven smiling astronauts who boarded the space shuttle Columbia last month.

To the Lewises, Anderson was a close friend who fell in love with space travel the first time he saw the shuttle - when Anderson and Oscar Lewis were young lieutenants at Randoph Air Force Base.

"We watched the shuttle on radar, and we looked at it crossing our control tower heading toward Florida, and he had the biggest smile on his face," Oscar said.

Anderson and Oscar Lewis met at Randolph Air Force Base. Anderson's presence at the Lewis' 1984 wedding reassured Phyllis on an emotional day.

"For some reason, when it was time to walk down the aisle, I just boo-hooed and cried," Phyllis said. "It was such a comforting feeling to turn around and see Michael looking at me with the biggest smile."

Nineteen years later, Oscar and Phyllis were stunned when they turned on the TV and watched Columbia crashing to Earth.

"It has been devastating to see it," Oscar said, "knowing it's one of our best friends."

Despite their grief, the Lewises smile when they think of the joy Anderson took in his work. They have no doubt he would want the space program to continue.

"I believe we should continue," Oscar said. "There will be risks. There will be more deaths. But our future is in that direction."

Oscar said he plans to call Anderson's wife and daughters in the next few days to share his memories with them. He also told his own daughter that, in their house, it will be Michael Anderson - not a rapper or an athlete - who they call a role model.