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Steve Green: astronaut Rick Husband was ‘someone who understood his calling’

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–It seemed, at first, to be an unlikely friendship. He was a contemporary Christian musician. The man standing in line waiting for his autograph was an astronaut. The musician was Steve Green. The astronaut was Rick Husband. But after that chance encounter, the pair became close friends and spiritual confidants.

Husband was commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia. He and six other astronauts were killed Feb. 1 when their ship disintegrated upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere after a 16-day mission. Investigators have yet to determine what caused NASA’s oldest space orbiter to crash.

One week after the disaster Green told Baptist Press he will remember Husband as a man who answered the call of God to be an astronaut.

“Rick recognized his calling absolutely to be an astronaut,” Green said during a telephone interview from his home in Franklin, Tenn. “Rick was a shining example of someone who understood his calling. He had been gifted and called into an arena of service as an astronaut. He did it with everything inside of him. He was the best he could possibly be and he did it to the glory of God.”

Hailed by President Bush as a true American hero, Husband was a born-again believer who sang in a church choir and took time out of his relentless schedule to videotape daily devotionals for his children.

A married father of two, Husband, 45, was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force who had already been to space once, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999, and he was an experienced pilot who had logged more than 3,800 hours of flight time in more than 40 types of aircraft.

After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1980, Husband went immediately into the Air Force, where he was trained on the F-4 fighter plane. He became a flight instructor and then a test pilot, testing the F-4 and all five models of the F-15.

Husband later became an F-15 aerial demonstration pilot and went on an exchange with the Royal Air Force in Boscombe Down, England.

Aboard Columbia, Husband carried with him a ball cap from Focus on the Family, a nationally known ministry founded by Christian psychologist James Dodson.

Following their 1999 encounter at a concert in Houston, Green accepted an invitation to watch Husband blast into space aboard Discovery.

“The launch was amazing,” Green said. “I had watched them on television but there’s nothing quite like being there in person and watching the amazing display of power. Not only was it visually stunning, there was just the sheer energy of the event.”

Green laughed as he remembered meeting Husband for the first time. “His wife told me that he was an astronaut and I turned back into a little boy almost immediately,” Green said. “I told everyone in line to get my autograph that Rick was an astronaut and people instantly started gravitating towards him.”

The initial bond between the two men was based on careers. “Every boy dreams of being able to fly,” Green said. “And mine was to go into space. Initially I was fascinated with his job and what he got to do. As time went on, the awe of that began to fade and I began to appreciate Rick as a person. I have a real affection for a guy who loved the Lord and lived out his faith in Christ in a very real way and in an inspiring way.”

While the friendship remained long distance, Green in Tennessee and Husband in Houston, the pair stayed in touch through the years. Green said it was the way Husband handled his fame that impressed him the most.

“One of the reasons I was drawn to Rick was the way he exemplified what I wanted to be. You have a job that thrusts you into the public eye but you don’t really think of it as that. You think of it as your calling. It isn’t something you hold on to or parade around town. Rick quietly went about his business. He didn’t wear a patch on his sleeve that said, ‘Look at me. I’m an astronaut.'”

Green said Husband’s personal testimony wasn’t flamboyant. “He was never shy or timid about expressing his faith in natural or simple ways.”

Green recounted the day Columbia was set to lift off as an example of Husband’s genuine faith.

“About a minute before liftoff, Mission Control said it was a great day. There Rick is perched atop the shuttle about to go into space and his response was, ‘The Lord has given us a great day.’

“That statement came out of the overflow of his heart,” Green said. “It is a witness that none of this is by chance. There is a sovereign Lord who rules the affairs of men. It was a statement acknowledging God’s providence. It was a strong statement and I don’t believe it went unnoticed.”

Green said Husband wasn’t obnoxious when he shared his testimony, noting that he never shied away from an opportunity to share Jesus.

“How many times are we concerned that it’s not appropriate to say something to a non-believer?” Green asked. “It is always appropriate to say something about Christ.”

Green said he was also impressed with Husband’s commitment to his family. “When you are an astronaut, your life is not your own. Your days are mapped out and it is extremely demanding. But out of the busyness of life he took time to disciple his own kids. It is a great reminder to us dads who could easily neglect that primary calling.”

The calling on Husband’s life to be an astronaut was confusing to some, Green said.

“A secular society has difficulty reconciling how a Christian can be a scientist,” Green said. “They believe that creation denies an interest in science. It doesn’t. They believe a Christian is someone who talks about heaven so they are worthless here on earth. Rick was a Christian and held to a Christian hope of a better place — heaven. Yet he spent his life trying to make earth a better place.”

Husband, Green said, was anxious that the shuttle mission succeed. “Rick wanted the science experiments on board to benefit people’s lives,” he said. “That is a thoroughly Christian principle. It is the same as someone in the medical field having an earnest desire to help improve the quality of life by providing medicine to the less fortunate.”

Green said there is a lesson in Husband’s life for children. “God gives kids dreams,” he said. “Rick had a dream when he was 4 years old. He wanted to be a pilot and maybe an astronaut. The message is that God puts dreams in people. If you have a dream, there are two things to understand. First, go for it because God gives you dreams. Second, as a child of God, the overarching call on your life is the summons to belong to God.

“God places his children in every possible corner of society with great diversity of gifts and callings,” Green said. “And he gives us great joy in that. Rick really loved what he was doing and what he did, he did for the glory of God.”

While Green will mourn the loss of a friend, his fascination with space remains strong.

“We are a nation of explorers and inventors,” Green said. “We continue to push back the limits. It’s part of the nature of our society and our country. And space travel must go on.”
Starnes is director of university communications at Union University. (BP) photo posted in BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAITHFUL COMMMANDER.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes