NASA astronaut Michael 'Rich' Clifford who completed third spaceflight after Parkinson's diagnosis dies at 69 due to complications from the disease
- Michael ‘Rich’ Clifford, a NASA astronaut who flew three space shuttle missions, died late Tuesday at the age of 69
- Clifford was suffering with Parkinson's since 1994 and died of complications of the disease
- He performed three spaceflights during his career at NASA, starting in 1992 and the last in 1996
- Clifford kept his diagnosis a secret for 15 years, but was able to complete his third spaceflight where he also did a spacewalk
Michael ‘Rich’ Clifford, a NASA astronaut who flew three space shuttle missions, died late Tuesday due to complications from Parkinson’s Disease. He was 69 years old.
Clifford’s death was announced by the Association of Space Explorers, a professional organization for astronauts and cosmonauts, on Twitter at around midnight ET.
He was chosen in 1990 to participate in NASA’s 13th group of spaceflight trainees and in 1992, launched into space aboard the Discovery space shuttle.
The astronaut was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1994, but he did not let it destroy his life: He completed his third mission and first spaceflight two years later, telling only NASA doctors of his disease.
Michael ‘Rich’ Clifford, a NASA astronaut who flew three space shuttle missions, died late Tuesday due to complications with Parkinson’s Disease - he was 69 years old.
Parkinson's is a progressive brain disorder mainly affecting body movements for which there is no cure.
‘So many things went through my head when I began to learn more about my condition, but I was resolute and determined not to let it affect my outlook,’ Clifford shared with Parkinson.org.
‘The medical community respected my privacy and only those senior NASA managers with a need to know were informed.
‘They asked me what I wanted to do, and my response was quick: I wanted to remain on flight status and remain in the queue for a future space flight. I wanted to remain an astronaut.’
Clifford is survived by his wife of 45 years, Nancy Elizabeth Brunson, and two sons, Richard Benjamin Clifford and Brandon Brunson Clifford.
Clifford is survived by his wife Nancy Elizabeth Brunson and two sons, Richard Benjamin Clifford and Brandon Brunson Clifford
Clifford was chosen in 1990 to participate in NASA’s 13th group of spaceflight trainees and in 1992, he launched into space aboard the Discovery space shuttle. A few months later, Clifford took off on his second spaceflight in April 1994 (pictured) as the mission specialists
Parkinson's: An uncurbable disease
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about one million Americans.
It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.
Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.
There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.
Although the astronaut was born in California, he considered Ogden, Utah his home - he moved there at a young age.
He received a bachelor of science from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1974, and a master of science degree in aerospace engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1982.
Clifford served as a second lieutenant in the US Army and then graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot school in 1986, allowing him to become an experimental test pilot for the military.
He retired from the arm in December 1995.
Clifford’s first flight, which took place on the Discovery, lasted for a week and included four other astronauts. They returned to Earth December 9, 1992.
A few months later, Clifford took off on his second spaceflight on April 9, 1994 as the mission specialists aboard the space shuttle Endeavour.
Clifford worked with his five STS-59 crewmates to operate the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL), a payload aimed at providing scientists with the data needed to distinguish human-induced environmental changes from other forms of natural change.
Shortly after his return, Clifford was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
‘Thankfully the NASA flight surgeons, senior NASA management, and my family supported me, and I was granted return-to-flight status under the condition that I would be watched closely by the flight surgeons,’ Clifford shared in a blog post on Parkinson.org
Clifford worked with his five STS-59 crewmates to operate the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL), a payload aimed at providing scientists with the data needed to distinguish human-induced environmental changes from other forms of natural change
Clifford launched in his third spaceflight, STS-76, on March 22, 1996 (pictured), but none of the other four crew members knew about his diagnosis
‘I also knew that I could not disclose my condition publicly.’
Clifford launched in his third spaceflight, STS-76, on March 22, 1996, but none of the other four crew members knew about his diagnosis.
‘I informed management that I wanted to do the EVA (extra-vehicular activity) and that I didn’t know there were limitations imposed on my capabilities,’ Clifford stated.
During the six-hour, two-minute, 28-second extravehicular activity (EVA), Clifford and Linda Godwin attached four experiments to Mir's docking module that characterized the environment around the station
‘I think they were actually surprised by my desire to perform the space walk, despite my condition.’
During the six-hour, two-minute, 28-second EVA, Clifford and Linda Godwin attached four experiments to Mir's docking module that characterized the environment around the station.
‘Looking back, I recognize the difficult decision NASA senior management made in assigning me to STS-76,’ stated Clifford.
‘They presented my capabilities to the NASA Headquarters Space Flight Medical Review board and I know it was not an easy decision for the board and senior management to clear me for flight.
‘I am grateful for their support in realizing the risk they took with me when there were dozens of other qualified astronauts who could have performed this mission.’
After landing back on Earth on March 31, 1996, Clifford decided he would not seek another spaceflight. He did not know how quickly his symptoms would progress and so he resigned from the astronaut corps and NASA in January 1997, having logged 27 days, 18 hours and 24 minutes in space while completing 443 orbits of Earth.