Former astronaut shares his life beyond the liftoff

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The astronaut community has changed so much since the early days of the space program. Astronauts are no longer all steely-eyed military trained men who rarely show emotion.

One former astronaut candidly admitted his insecurities to Eyewitness News and explained how perseverance and perspective helped him become what he calls an ordinary spaceman.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, Apollo 8 took the first pictures of earth from behind the moon.

"I thought, 'Wow! I want to do that someday,'" said former astronaut Clayton Anderson.

Anderson was just a 9-year-old small town boy from Nebraska, crowded around the TV with his siblings, but he never forgot that moment. He has a picture of it on his living room wall today.

Growing up, he realized he wanted space to be his life's work. He joined NASA in 1983, but it would be 15 years before he was finally chosen to become an astronaut.

"I had convinced myself I was never going to be selected," Anderson said.

His new book titled "An Ordinary Spaceman" chronicles that journey.

"I'm an ordinary guy who was granted some extraordinary opportunities," said Anderson.

In the book, he writes about the ups of the career, including being outfitted the first time for his gear "feeling like a kid in a candy store." He goes on to reflect on a low point, escorting astronaut families during the Columbia tragedy.

"I needed and wanted to help but I didn't have a clue as to what to do," he wrote. "My whole life changed. That whole experience changed me as a person."

But it didn't deter his desire to fly. It would be four more years of training and many days away from his growing family before his first launch.

"I was pretty depressed," he wrote. "I doubted if I was capable of actually performing in a manner that would one day put me on a launch pad."

But he did, gaining confidence along the way and having fun with it. He flew twice, totaling 167 days in space and logged more than 40 hours of spacewalks.

If nothing else, Anderson hopes to reveal in his book the side of an astronaut the public doesn't usually get to see, the human one.

"I always strive to be just slightly above average because if I can stay just slightly above average, I think I can be successful," Anderson said.

Anderson retired from NASA in 2013, but he still takes every chance he gets to mention he is the only astronaut ever from Nebraska.

Looking back at the old picture from Apollo, he is proud of this perspective - a regular and ordinary guy who has done some extraordinary things.

For more on Clayton Anderson and to purchase his book, visit his website
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