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Tribute: Honoring Patient Council Member and Astronaut Michael R. “Rich” Clifford

The Sky’s the Limit: Former Astronaut Rich Clifford Experiences Parkinson’s in Space

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) mourns the passing of passionate advocate and Foundation Patient Council member Michael R. “Rich” Clifford. He died on Tuesday, December 28, at age 69.

Rich was well known for his accomplished career as a NASA astronaut, where he flew on three space shuttle missions: STS-53 (December 1992), STS-59 (April 1994) and STS-76 (March 1996), for a total of over 27 days orbiting the earth. In 1994, after Rich’s second space flight, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) at age 42. During his third and final mission, he and his crew partner became the first U.S. astronauts to perform a spacewalk outside a shuttle docked with a space station. Rich was honored for his service to the space program with the NASA Space Flight Medal and the Army Commendation Medal, among many other awards during his lifetime.

Keeping his diagnosis private during his extensive career, Rich decided to share his PD publicly in 2011 and began traveling across the country to share his story. He joined MJFF’s Patient Council, an advisory body providing strategic input across patient priorities and education, and inspired thousands of people and families by speaking with support groups and PD organizations. Rich was passionate advocating for the importance of participating in clinical research, including sharing his own journey as an ambassador for Fox Trial Finder, the Foundation’s online clinical trial matching tool.

In 2014, a short documentary on Rich’s life and 1996 post-diagnosis space shuttle mission, “The Astronaut’s Secret,” was released. When offering hope to others living with PD, he said, “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.”

At The Michael J. Fox Foundation, we were honored to have worked with Rich in our ongoing efforts to speed better Parkinson’s treatments and, ultimately, a cure for the millions of people and families living with PD. We offer our condolences to his wife Nancy, his two sons Richard and Brandon, friends and colleagues, and to those whose lives he touched and inspired.

More Information:                   

Space: Rich Clifford, NASA astronaut who secretly flew with Parkinson's, dies at 69 (2021)

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