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Columbia astronaut had Oklahoma ties

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Space shuttle Columbia astronaut Michael Anderson had big dreams.

``Ultimately, he wanted to be the first black man to land on the moon and the first man on Mars, period,'' said Anderson's sister, Joann Sykes of Oklahoma City. ``I had not a doubt in my mind that he would not accomplish both of them.''

Anderson, 43, one of seven astronauts killed Saturday when the space shuttle exploded over the Texas skies, was the first black astronaut to dock with the Mir space station and only the 14th black accepted into NASA's space program.

Sykes says she asked her brother if he was nervous before he departed on his last mission.

``He told me, 'I made my peace with God. I'm not worried about it,''' she said.

``He was really strong in his faith with God. That, more than anything, will sustain us through this.''

Sykes said her brother was a caring family man who loved flying, computer games and automobiles. He remained humble, even as his work with NASA soared him to outer space. Being an astronaut was an ordinary job for him, something he never bragged about, his sister said.

``When I think about my brother, I am in awe of the way he knew what he wanted to do,'' she said. ``This was not a dream for him. It was a reality of the future. He knew he would obtain it someday.''

Anderson was born in New York and lived in Spokane, Wash., until he was accepted into the space program in 1994. He moved to Houston in 1995, with his wife, Sandra, and two daughters, Kaycee and Sydney.

Anderson's brother-in-law, Fred Sykes, said he couldn't wait for the astronaut to return home so they could build a new computer together.

``He seemed like he loved life,'' Fred Sykes said. ``He was always smiling and was a great, all-around guy.''

The Sykes learned about the explosion from television.

``After I saw what was going on, I knew there couldn't be any survivors,'' Fred Sykes said. ``My wife broke down and we tried to console each other as much as we could.''

Joann Sykes said she plans to travel to Houston to be with Anderson's wife and children.

Anderson's grand-niece, a fourth-grader at Longfellow Elementary in Oklahoma City, took pictures for a school bulletin board as her uncle blasted into space 16 days ago. Dee Dee Durham, 10, had hoped her uncle would speak at her school one day.

Longfellow Principal Oneida Grigsby said she plans to talk to students about the tragedy Monday, encouraging them to support Dee Dee and her family.

``We will probably write letters and send some words and something to comfort her,'' Grigsby said. ``We certainly know that this was an exciting week for her, and she was looking forward to his return and she is going to be just devastated for a few days.''

Anderson and fellow Columbia astronaut Rick Husband attended Grace Community Church in Houston, where they stood before church members three Sundays ago to pray about the upcoming mission.

``We've lost two family members,'' said Garrett Booth, the church's executive pastor. ``It's such a shock.''
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