Astronauts' Faith Lives On
March 1, 2003 - On Feb. 1, about 8 a.m. CST, Col. Rick Husband, Lt. Col. Michael Anderson and five other astronauts were killed when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart only minutes before its scheduled landing in Florida. Both Husband and Anderson were known for their Christian witness in the community surrounding Johnson Space Center in Texas. And the impact of their witness continues today.
by Kristen Burke
If your life ended tomorrow, would people remember you for your job or for the way you lived your life? Although one might expect Rick Husband and Michael Anderson to be remembered as astronauts, they are being remembered in their community and across the nation as men who were devoted to serving Jesus in their everyday lives.
"Rick Husband was a boy of 4 when he first thought of being an astronaut," President George W. Bush said at a Feb. 4 memorial service held at Johnson Space Center. "As a man and having become an astronaut, he found it was even more important to love his family and serve his Lord."
Neither Husband nor Anderson left much doubt about their priorities in life. These men loved their God, their families and their jobs—in that order, said Steve Riggle, pastor of Grace Community Church in Houston, Texas, where both men were members.
Husband had videotaped 34 Bible devotionals for his son and daughter. There was one for each child to watch for every day Husband was in space.
Riggle said Anderson was a member of Grace Community Church's "Dads in the Gap," a group that met to pray for their children and for their roles as fathers.
Making a Difference
Riggle said that although both men rarely told people that they were astronauts, they looked for opportunities to tell others about Christ.
Riggle described Anderson as an unassuming man who demonstrated God's love by reaching out to help others. Anderson would often take his two daughters into downtown Houston, where they would feed inner-city children.
Christian recording artist Steve Green met Husband at a concert a few years ago. They became friends, and Green performed at pre-launch ceremonies for Husband's two space flights.
"Rick was a man of faith. He lived with the Christian hope of a better place, a place called heaven," Green said in an interview with CNN. "But he also had a very fond affection for this place, for this world. And that was his zeal, to spend his life making a difference."
On the Sunday before the men went into quarantine for their space flight, the congregation at Grace Community Church prayed for the astronauts. Said Anderson at the time: "Rick and I have prayed for a successful mission, but also that somehow God would allow everyone to see our faith in Him."
The astronauts' prayers are being answered, in spite of the Columbia tragedy, as the story of their faith in Christ spreads. Anderson's and Husband's simple demonstrations of faith in Christ are still having an impact on their community—an impact that was evident the morning after Columbia was lost.
The three Sunday-morning services at Grace Community Church were full; people from the community and reporters from across the nation were in attendance. More than 200 people requested follow-up materials after Riggle presented the Gospel.
Riggle said that as he came back into the church sanctuary after talking to reporters, he saw two women waiting to talk to him. They told him that they had worked with Husband at NASA and that Husband had often invited them to the church, but they had always declined.
Finally, on Feb. 2, they accepted Husband's invitation, came to the church and responded to the Gospel presentation.
Hope for the Future
Anderson told a pastor emeritus of his former church in Spokane, Wash., "If this thing doesn't come out right, don't worry about me. I'm just going on higher." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 reinforces Anderson's belief that a shuttle accident would not be the end of his life: "Brothers, we do not want you … to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (NIV).
Because of the risks involved with space flight, NASA has astronauts complete a form specifying their final requests in the event of an accident. On the bottom of his form, Husband wrote a note to Riggle: "Tell them about Jesus. He's real to me."
Riggle said that in spite of their grief, the Anderson and Husband families—especially wives Sandy Anderson and Evelyn Husband—want to tell the world about the trust the two men had in Jesus. That task is being accomplished in part by the attitude that permeates the Grace Community Church congregation.
A television producer visiting the church asked, "Why is everyone so composed?"
Riggle answered, "It's because we know where Rick and Mike are. While we feel the loss and the grief, we know that this is not it."