During his stint in the Air Force, Anderson received a master's degree in physics in 1990 from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Anderson flew various models of the KC-135 and the T-38A aircraft, logging more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He also became an instructor pilot.
Anderson got a step closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut in late 1994 when NASA selected him as an astronaut candidate.
" you just sort of pursue your interests," he said, "and you pray about it, and hopefully one day all things will kind of fall into place. And you'll have a chance to make those dreams come true. And fortunately for me, it did happen that way."
In the same preflight interview, he went on to say that he hasn't been disappointed, "And it's been a marvelous adventure. I've enjoyed every bit of it."
Anderson's first space flight occurred in 1998 when he flew as a mission specialist on Space Shuttle Endeavour during STS-89. That flight was the eighth Shuttle/Mir mission. Anderson spent 8 days, 19 hours and 47 minutes in space.
In 2003, he made his second trip into space on Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-107. He served as the STS-107 payload commander. More than 80 experiments were conducted during the flight.
Astronaut Office Chief Kent Rominger said that Anderson was the right man for the job of STS-107 payload commander. "He was a perfect choice for the payload commander," he said. "Organized, thorough, someone you could absolutely count on, a gifted leader."
Anderson and his six crewmates perished on Feb. 1, 2003, as Columbia broke up over Texas during re-entry, about 16 minutes before landing. STS-107 spent 15 days, 22 hours and 20 minutes in space, giving him a total of 24 days, 18 hours and 7 minutes in space.