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HomeGeneralMan Who Almost Became NASA’s First Black Astronaut in the ‘60s Recounts...

Man Who Almost Became NASA’s First Black Astronaut in the ‘60s Recounts His Experience

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Source: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

A documentary delving into the untold story of Ed Dwight, a former Air Force pilot who trained to become the first Black astronaut two decades before Guion Bluford’s historic flight, sheds light on the complexities and challenges faced by African Americans in the space race.

Dwight, invited in 1961 to join the astronaut training program, initially hesitated due to the immense pressure and skepticism surrounding his potential success. Despite meeting rigorous standards set by military leaders, including Chuck Yeager, head of the test pilot school, Dwight faced significant opposition and isolation within the program.

The documentary, titled “The Space Race,” directed by Lisa Cortés, explores the political and social landscape of the time, revealing how figures like John F. Kennedy and Whitney Young of the National Urban League played pivotal roles in advocating for diversity within the astronaut corps as a means to challenge racial stereotypes.

However, Dwight’s aspirations were dashed when NASA announced its new crop of astronauts in 1963, none African American. This setback, coupled with the assassination of President Kennedy, led Dwight to resign from the military, disillusioned by the lack of progress and representation.

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Despite his dreams of reaching the stars vanishing, Dwight found solace and success in a new career as a sculptor. He created bronze works honoring prominent African American figures such as Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks.

Decades later, Dwight’s story remains relatively unknown, underscoring the systemic barriers African Americans face in the aerospace industry. Even within the astronaut community, awareness of Dwight’s pioneering efforts was limited, as highlighted by retired astronaut Leland Melvin’s revelation that Dwight had to introduce himself at a retirement party attended by fellow astronauts unaware of his legacy.

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The documentary also explores the broader context of diversity and representation in space exploration, touching on the achievements of Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, the first person of African descent in space, sent by the Soviet Union in 1980. 

While the US lagged in this regard, the space shuttle era brought about a transformative shift within NASA, enabling the inclusion of engineers and scientists from diverse backgrounds.

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Bluford, the first African American to travel to space in 1983, became a beacon of hope for future generations of Black astronauts. His commitment to ensuring that he was not the sole representative of his community in space reflects a shared desire among astronauts to establish a lasting legacy of inclusion and diversity within the astronaut corps.

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As space tourism ventures like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin make strides in opening up access to space for civilians, the documentary serves as a reminder of the long and arduous journey undertaken by pioneers like Ed Dwight, whose contributions paved the way for a more equitable and inclusive future in space exploration.

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