In Memoriam: Michael "Rich" Clifford

In Memoriam: Michael "Rich" Clifford
Michael “Rich” Clifford

The Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering is sad to report the passing of Army Astronaut LTC Michael “Rich” Clifford, M.S.A.E. 1982. Clifford passed away peacefully on December 28, 2021, at his home in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“Rich was a dedicated leader, teacher, and thrill seeker, who loved to fly as demonstrated throughout his life as an avid aviator,” said William R. T. Oakes Professor and School Chair Mark F. Costello. “We extend our sincerest condolences to Rich’s family, friends, and colleagues. He will be greatly missed.”

Clifford was born in San Bernardino, California, in 1952 and grew up in Ogden, Utah. He attended the United States Military Academy, where he met his wife of 45 years, Nancy Brunson Clifford, while in Hawaii on a training session. He flew her around the island of Oahu on their first date. Upon graduating from West Point, Clifford was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served a tour with the 10th Cavalry in Fort Carson, Colorado, and then entered the U.S. Army Aviation School. He would graduate at the top of his flight class and was designated an Army Aviator.

He then served a tour in Germany with the 2nd ACR before returning to his studies and enrolling at Georgia Tech. He received his master’s in Aeronautical Engineering and was assigned to the Department of Mechanics at West Point as an instructor and assistant professor. In 1986, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and was designated an experimental test pilot.

Clifford onboard the ISS

Clifford was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1990. He flew on three space shuttle missions (STS-53, 59, 76) and spent more than 27 days orbiting Earth. Prior to his third mission, Clifford was diagnosed with early Parkinson’s disease. Despite the diagnosis, Clifford launched on Atlantis in 1996, docking with the Russian space station MIR. He performed a six-hour spacewalk during the mission, which was later featured in a documentary titled The Astronaut’s Secret.

Upon retiring from the Army and NASA, Clifford joined Boeing as the director of operations and utilization to build the International Space Station (ISS). After completing the ISS build, Clifford served as the deputy program manager for the space shuttle, seeing it through to its final flight.

In his accomplished career, Clifford received the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement, NASA Space Flight Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. Clifford was inducted into the Georgia Tech Engineering Hall of Fame in 2011. He was a member of the American Helicopter Society, Army Aviation Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Association of Space Explorers. He was also a member of the patient council for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Clifford is survived by his wife, Nancy, son Brandon Clifford and daughter-in-law Johanna Lobdell; son Richard Clifford, daughter-in-law Joanna Clifford, and grandchildren Nolan, Liam, and Eva.

"Everyone with Parkinson’s Disease handles it differently," Clifford said in a 2015 interview with the Michael J. Fox Foundation. "Don't let it get in the way of living. Life is too good. Remember, keep going the sky's the limit."

For those who are interested in making a contribution in Clifford’s name, the Clifford family recommends The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and Parkinson’s Foundation.

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