For 167 days of his life, Clayton Anderson floated far above the Earth.
But it’s his hometown of Ashland that Nebraska’s only astronaut has always gravitated toward.
Nearly a decade after his retirement from NASA, where he spent 30 years, including the last 15 as an astronaut, Anderson, 63, has landed the position of president and CEO of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum. The museum sits near his hometown along Interstate 80 between Omaha and Lincoln.
Retired NASA astronaut and Ashland native Clayton Anderson became president and CEO of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum earlier this month.
For Anderson, the opportunity to return home and be near family yet continue to work in a space-related field has proved to be a great draw. Anderson began his tenure early this month.
“I’m just very excited,” he said in an interview. “There are special people here. There are dedicated, hardworking and amazing people that helped raise me … and made me the man I’ve become. It’s time for me to come home and give back.”
Anderson succeeds Jeffrey Cannon, who had led the museum since 2018 but stepped down because of health reasons.
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Anderson has been teaching intro to aerospace engineering to first-year students at Iowa State University. Since retiring from NASA in 2013, he has been writing, giving speeches and teaching.
As leader of the SAC Museum, Anderson hopes to continue the museum’s mission of educating, entertaining and inspiring anyone who comes through the doors. The museum will cerebrate its 25th anniversary in 2023.
“It’s a special museum in a part of Nebraska that’s truly special to me,” he said. “I just think it’s become a gem of the Midwest, and I want to take it into the future.”
Gary Gates, chair of the museum’s board of directors, noted that one of the museum’s exhibits is a celebration of Anderson’s space exploration. “We are very excited to have Clay’s visionary skillset at the helm of the organization,” he said in a prepared statement.
Anderson envisions that he and the museum’s staff of about 30 employees will implement more interactivity that “can bring the museum even to bigger life.”
“That’s a passion of mine,” he said. “Educating people is a passion that I have. We need to continue that and carry it into the future for the next 25 years.”
Anderson’s future for himself crystallized on Christmas Eve 1968 when he was 9 years old. On that day, his parents roused him and his two siblings so they all could watch TV coverage of the Apollo 8 crew orbiting the moon. It was the first time humans had ever reached the moon.
“My mom would tell you that I was 6 years old and we would discuss me becoming an astronaut,” he said. “It probably didn’t become something that I …….