Rich Clifford

October 13, 1952 ~ December 28, 2021 (age 69)

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Army Astronaut LTC Michael “Rich” Clifford, age 69, passed away peacefully Tuesday, December 28, 2021, at his home in North Myrtle Beach, SC. His family is deeply saddened by his unexpected passing. Beloved husband, father, and grandfather, Rich is survived by his wife of 45 years, Nancy Brunson Clifford; his son Richard Clifford, daughter-in-law Joanna Clifford, and grandchildren Nolan, Liam, and Eva of Nyon, Switzerland; his son Brandon Clifford and daughter-in-law Johanna Lobdell of Boston, MA. 

Rich was born in San Bernardino CA in 1952 and grew up in Ogden UT. He attended the United States Military Academy. In the summer before his final year, he met Nancy in Hawaii while on a training session. He flew her around the island of Oahu on their first date. Upon graduating from West Point, Rich was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served a tour with the 10th Cavalry in Fort Carson, CO, and then entered the U.S. Army Aviation School where he graduated top of his flight class and was designated an Army Aviator. He then served a tour in Germany with the 2nd ACR. Rich received his masters at Georgia Tech 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. 

In 1990, Rich was selected as a NASA Astronaut and is a veteran of three space shuttle missions (STS-53, 59, 76) for more than 27 days orbiting the earth. Prior to his third mission, Rich was diagnosed with early Parkinson’s disease. Despite this diagnosis, Rich flew his third mission, which docked with the Russian space station MIR. During this mission he performed a six-hour spacewalk. His story is captured in a documentary titled ‘The Astronaut’s Secret’.

Upon retiring from the Army and NASA, Rich joined Boeing as the Director of Operations and Utilization to build the International Space Station. After completing the Station build, Rich served as the Deputy Program Manager for the Space Shuttle, seeing it through to its final flight.

In his accomplished career, Rich 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. Rich was inducted into the Georgia Tech Engineering Hall of Fame. 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 a member of the patient council for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. 

Rich was a dedicated leader, teacher, and above all, a thrill-seeker. Rich loved flying. As an explorer, he consistently operated at the edges of known territory. He managed to live on the brink while sharing his experiences with others. The only hobby that rivaled flying for Rich was golf. While Parkinson’s cut his flying short, Rich was able to enjoy golf throughout retirement. He was as humble as he was honorable.

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