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Anderson speaks to schoolkids at Wayne State College

April 9, 2017 GMT

WAYNE — When people ask Clayton Anderson what it was like for him to work in space, his answer was simple: it was like being Superman every day.

“Being weightless, I could fly like Superman and I had super-strength,” Anderson said. “I didn’t have super-vision, but that’s okay — I was living the dream. I used to fly around the station humming the Superman theme song from the movie. It was just a dream come true for me.”

Anderson, a retired astronaut from Ashland and the first — and so far only — astronaut from Nebraska, spoke to about 500 elementary school students Friday morning here at the Ramsey Theater on the campus of Wayne State College.

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Anderson told the students they needed to do four things to make their goals come to pass — have a dream, persevere, that genius is not necessary and to be proud of who they are.

As for the first, Anderson told the students that he first decided that he wanted to be an astronaut when he was nine years old and watched Apollo 8 insert into lunar orbit on a black-and-white TV on Christmas Eve 1968, becoming the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.

Anderson also exemplified perseverance, as he tried to become an astronaut for 15 years and 15 applications before making the cut in the late 1990s. He flew on Space Shuttle Discovery and also served aboard the International Space Station before retiring in 2013.

“It was a shot in the dark for certain things, because the competition is so keen,” Anderson said. “I think when people around the Johnson Space Center who were on the selection committee found out what type of person (I was) — what my work ethic was, what my morality was, what my personality was like, that I could work with a team and I could lead and I could follow — I think those were the traits that allowed them to pick me in the end.”

Anderson also told of how he was an astronaut family escort for the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia mission that ended with the disintegration of the shuttle and the loss of all seven on board. He described that day as the worst day of his life and as a day that changed him inside.

“It was a really difficult day, being there and expecting a big happy reunion with their families and the crew — then when they didn’t show up, there was such chaos and such trauma that I wasn’t certain how to react and what I was supposed to do,” Anderson said. “We basically had to wing it. I was trying to do the most I could for the families, but it was just a horrific day for me because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to make it all go away and make it better.”

Anderson began speaking to students while he still served as an astronaut and has done so more since his retirement from space.

“I love it,” Anderson said after Friday’s event. “I hope I’ve inspired 500 kids today to go out and do great things.”