NASA’s Rich Clifford, Astronaut Who Flew With Parkinson’s, Dies at 69

by Madison Miller

Sadly, a NASA legend has just passed away. Michael “Rich” Clifford was a NASA astronaut that flew on three different space shuttle missions during his epic life. He has passed away at the age of 69 after spending 27 days, 18 hours, and 24 minutes in space.

Clifford is perhaps best known for his later mission. He flew on a space mission even after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease but kept it on the down-low so he could still be a part of the mission.

“Everyone with PD handles it differently. Don’t let it get in the way of living. Life is too good. Remember, keep going the sky’s the limit,” he once said during a 2015 interview.

He passed away from complications related to his Parkinson’s Disease. His death has been acknowledged by the Association of Space Explorers, in which he was included as a life member.

Rich Clifford Accomplishments in Space and on Earth

Rich Clifford had a pretty epic life out in space. He first became an astronaut in 1990 with NASA’s 13th group of trainees. The group was given the affectionate, yet strange nickname of “The Hairballs.” Prior to that, he was a space shuttle vehicle integration engineer.

According to, Clifford worked hard to follow his dreams and climb the ladder within the NASA world. He was able to graduate from the strenuous basic training and then spent a couple of months working with the Astronaut Office Mission Development Branch. Eventually, he was named as part of the STS-53 crew in 1992.

He would join four other astronauts for a trip on the space shuttle Discovery. The mission was classified and done on behalf of the Department of Defense. His next mission came on April 9, 1994, on the space shuttle Endeavour as a mission specialist.

Sadly, it was after this mission landed that he was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His love for science and space led him to keep his diagnosis a secret to ensure he could still work. His first warning sign was that his arm no longer would swing while he walked, but instead hung limply.

Final Mission for Clifford

Rich Clifford told the medical staff at NASA as well as his commander at the time leading up to the third mission.

His final mission was on Atlantis. The main goal of this mission was to deliver Shannon Lucid to the Russian space station Mir to live on board. This is where Rich Clifford made one of his memorable and historic memories during his space career.

The crew docked to the outpost. At this time, Clifford and Linda Godwin would become the very first astronauts to ever spacewalk outside a shuttle docked along with a space station. While doing so, they were also studying the environment around this station.

After this exhilarating mission, his time as an astronaut ended quickly. He resigned from the astronaut corps because he didn’t know at what rate his Parkinson’s symptoms would accelerate.

Instead, he worked for Boeing where he managed operations at the International Space Station. Above and beyond space, Clifford would also become a very influential advocate and spokesperson for living with Parkinson’s. He was on the council for the Michael l J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and starred in his own 2014 documentary, “An Astronaut’s Secret.”