Space News space history and artifacts articles Messages space history discussion forums Sightings worldwide astronaut appearances Resources selected space history documents

                  arrow advertisements

Ed Dwight flies into space 60 years after being 'first Black astronaut'

May 19, 2024

— Ed Dwight has finally made it to space, more than 60 years after he made headlines as the United States' first Black astronaut.

The now 90-year-old retired Air Force Captain lifted off on Sunday (May 19) on Blue Origin's 25th New Shepard sub-orbital mission. Launching with five other passengers at 9:35 a.m. CDT (1435 GMT) from the company's West Texas facility, Dwight reached 65.8 miles (105.9 km) high, qualifying him as an astronaut based on altitude standards originally set by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world's governing body for human spaceflight records, and recognized by the Association of Space Explorers.

The flight, which ended with the New Shepard capsule "RSS First Step" touching down under parachutes not far from where it had leapt off Earth about 10 minutes earlier, completed a journey that began in 1961.

"I thought I really didn't need this in my life, but now I need this in my life," said Dwight soon after landing and stepping out of the New Shepard capsule. "It was a life changing experience."

New Shepard Mission NS-25. Click to enlarge video in new pop-up window. (Blue Origin)

At the urging of then-President John F. Kennedy, who was motivated to diversify NASA's astronaut corps, Dwight became the first Black airman to report to the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Led by Chuck Yeager, who 14 years prior had become the first person to break the sound barrier, the program was known as a pathway for pilots to enter NASA's ranks.

Dwight was among the 26 members of his class who were recommended to the civilian space agency by the Air Force.

"The next thing you know, I'm on magazine covers all over the world and getting 1,500 letters a day from people congratulating me — and I hadn't done anything yet," said Dwight in 2020 interview with collectSPACE.

After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Dwight lost his support from the White House and he was ultimately passed over for NASA's third group of astronauts recruited that same year. In 1967, test pilot Robert Lawrence became the first African American to be chosen for a space program, the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), but died in a jet crash six months after his selection.

It was not until 1983 that a Black American entered space, when Air Force officer and aerospace engineer Guion "Guy" Bluford launched as a mission specialist on board the space shuttle Challenger.

"[I] was on an upward trajectory until ... the president was killed. It changed the whole play. The whole thing was turned on its head and all of a sudden, I found myself without a sponsor and was lost in the hinterlands."

It took six decades, but Dwight found another champion in the form of Space For Humanity, a non-profit that underwrites sending people to space so they can experience the "Overview Effect," a cognitive shift when seeing Earth as a planet. Blue Origin did not disclose the cost of the trip, but additional support for Dwight's launch was provided by the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation.

"Everybody needs to do this," said Dwight after returning from space.

"Thanks, Space for Humanity, for helping make Ed's journey to space a reality, and for creating access to space for all," said former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, who served as an executive producer on the documentary, "The Space Race," which includes Dwight's story.

Dwight's crewmates for the NS-25 launch included venture capitalist Mason Angel, founder of Industrious Ventures; Sylvain Chiron, founder of one of the largest craft breweries in France, the Brasserie Mont Blanc; software engineer Kenneth Hess, whose Family Tree Maker product line was acquired by in 2003; adventure tourist Carol Schaller, who formerly was a certified public accountant; and Gopi Thotakura, co-founder of Preserve Life Corp, a global center for holistic wellness and applied health.

Sunday's launch was Blue Origin's seventh human spaceflight and the first since suffering a New Shepard booster failure during an uncrewed flight in September 2022. With the NS-25 crew, the company has flown 37 people to space, including Wally Funk, one of the first women pilots to pass spaceflight medical testing as a member of the "Mercury 13," and Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of the first U.S. astronaut in space (and the New Shepard's namesake), Alan Shepard.

Other passengers have included Blue Origin's founder Jeff Bezos and "Star Trek" actor William Shatner.

In the years since Dwight retired from the Air Force, he dedicated his life's work to using sculpture to tell Black history. In total, he has created more than 20,000 gallery works and over 130 public artworks and large-scale monuments, including the Texas African American History Memorial in Austin (which includes a statue of Black astronaut Bernard Harris).

On Sunday, Dwight became the 21st Black American astronaut to fly into space.


Ed Dwight floats above his seat after entering space on board Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule on May 19, 2024. (Blue Origin)

Former USAF Captain Ed Dwight seen training for his sub-orbital spaceflight on Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule. (Blue Origin)

U.S. Air Force test pilot Ed Dwight became the first Black American to graduate from the Aerospace Research Pilot School and become eligible for selection by NASA for its astronaut corps. (USAF)

Ed Dwight (center) and NS-25 crewmates Gopi Thotakura, Carol Schaller, Sylvain Chiron, Mason Angel and Ken Hess. (Blue Origin)

The Gemini spacecraft on Blue Origin's NS-25 New Shepard patch represents Ed Dwight's aerospace training era. (Blue Origin)

Capt. Ed Dwight (USAF, ret.), 90, exits Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule after landing from a suborbital spaceflight on May 19, 2024. (Blue Origin)

back to collectSPACE
© 1999-2024 collectSPACE. All rights reserved.