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After not becoming the first Black astronaut in space, Edward J. Dwight Jr. went there at 90

Dwight went on Blue Origin's 25th mission with New Shepard along with Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, Carol Schaller and Gopi Thotakura.
Former NASA astronaut Ed Dwight
Posted at 3:38 PM, Apr 27, 2024

American Edward J. Dwight Jr., the first Black astronaut candidate, realized his dreams of space flight at 90 — decades after he was recommended to NASA under the Kennedy administration — when he launched on board Blue Origin's first crewed spaceflight since the company last launched in Aug. 2022.

The space firm, founded by Jeff Bezos, announced the six crew member flight on April 4.

Dwight said space at this age is "a curiosity more than anything else," and said the company called him up "and asked me if I was interested. And of course, I said yes," NPR reported.

Dwight went on Blue Origin's 25th mission with New Shepard along with Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, Carol Schaller and Gopi Thotakura.

His seat on the craft was be sponsored by Space for Humanity — a nonprofit with a mission to democratize access to space for humanity. Additional sponsorship funding came from the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation, the company said.

A new National Geographic documentary details Ed Dwight's incredible American story in "The Space Race," which premiered on Hulu and Disney+ in February.

Dwight is credited for blazing a trail for Black astronauts with dreams of space flight. He was born in 1933 and raised in Kansas City, Kansas.

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During his career, Edward R. Murrow, the then-director of the United States Information Agency, sent a letter to James Webb — the administrator for NASA — in Sept. 1961, where he wrote, "Why don't we put the first non-white man in space?" In the letter he said, "If your boys were to enroll and train a qualified Negro and then fly him in whatever vehicle is available, we could retell our whole space effort to the whole non-white world, which is most of it," the famed journalist said.

The letter is quoted in George Washington University's Quest blog, "The History of Spaceflight."

The White House pressed the Air Force to select a Black officer and Dwight met the criteria, including 1,500 hours of jet flying time and a bachelor's degree in engineering or science — along with three consecutive "outstanding" ratings from military leadership. Only Dwight met that criteria at the time, theAssociated Press reported.

Dwight was selected among the first astronauts picked by President John F. Kennedy’s White House to be a part of Chuck Yeager's test pilot program at Edwards Air Force Base in California's desert.

Dwight's treatment was under close scrutiny by the Kennedy White House, according to multiple accounts.

Yeager, who was the first person to break the sound barrier — and who was a fighter pilot during World War II — said in his autobiography before is death in 2020, "From the moment we picked our first class, I was caught in a buzz saw of controversy involving a black student. The White House, Congress, and civil rights groups came at me with meat cleavers, and the only way I could save my head was to prove I wasn't a damned bigot."

In Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff" — he writes how "it seemed like, a detachment of Civil Rights Division lawyers would turn up from Washington, from the Justice Department, which was headed by the president’s brother, Bobby." He wrote, "lawyers squinted in the desert sunlight and asked ... many questions about the progress and treatment of Ed Dwight.”

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Dwight and 26 other potential astronauts were recommended to NASA by the Air Force. In 1963 he found out his fate when he was not selected to be among 14 astronauts chosen.

Then, on Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. Days later the Pentagon delivered papers to Dwight stationing him in Germany. A meeting at the White House with Bobby Kennedy changed those plans, stationing him in Canada. He was eventually sent to Wright-Patterson in Ohio in 1964. He graduated with 9,000 hours of air time but left the Air Force in 1966 without becoming an astronaut.

Dwight would go on to work in the private sector with companies like IBM, and he became a noted and accomplished sculptor. NASA later named an asteroid after Dwight Jr. and wrote about it on page ten of their Goddard View publication released in 2021.

It was on April 12, 1961, that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed one orbitof the Earth in his spaceship becoming the first human in space.

Over two decades later on Aug. 30, 1983, Guion Bluford became the first Black American in space when he launched into low Earth orbit while on the Challenger Space Shuttle. Bluford would go on to log 688 hours in space flying on three other shuttle missions.

Dwight was never "granted the opportunity to fly to space," Blue Origin wrote on their website. Dwight's mission was the seventh human flight for its New Shepard program, and the 25th in its history. Blue said the company, to the date of the writing, had flown 31 humans above the Kármán line — a boundary that separates Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

Dwight said in a quote published by the New York Times that in 1962 he piloted an F-104 Starfighter passing through the sound barrier. He said at 80,000 feet he came upon the edge of the atmosphere and cut the engine's fuel to then float along the thin layers of air above the Earth's surface.

"The first time you do this it's like, Oh my God, what the hell? Look at this," he said in a quote in the paper when he was 85 years old. "You can actually see this beautiful blue layer that the Earth is encased in. It's absolutely stunning."