The story told in NatGeo’s “The Space Race” is one that is little known: Black citizens’ contribution to space flights.
It’s a history that began in 1959 when a mostly still-segregated America was introduced to NASA’s first seven astronauts, white men all, who were touted as having “The Right Stuff.”
Once President John F. Kennedy was in office, he made the space race to the moon a priority in the ongoing Cold War against Communist Russia. And he made integrating the astronauts a priority as well.
That is how Ed Dwight overcame institutional resistance to enter the program. But even with JFK’s powerful push, Dwight, a test pilot like the era’s other astronauts, was not chosen for the next batch. And with Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Dwight soon exited the space program entirely.
Today, at 90, Dwight is a vigorous presence in life and in “Space Race” and in a recent Zoom interview exhibited the positivity that has always been essential to his being.
“I knew in the stream of history something was happening and I was a part of that history. I was hopeful it would turn out that I ended up going in space. I didn’t realize until the whole thing was over how unfair that was to me.
“I knew this conversation had to get started at some point. In their view if you put a Black man there besides these first seven guys, he would destroy NASA.
“So Kennedy’s reaction to that was, ‘Okay, I’ll create another space program’ — and it was called the MLL program. I was immediately assigned to that program, and that’s the astronaut training that I completed. Now NASA did pick people out of that program.”
But Dwight was never chosen. He transitioned to become a successful sculptor. In 2020 he was named an honorary Space Force member.
Leland Melvin retired as an astronaut in 2014, a member of NASA’s 21st century pioneers.
“I never imagined myself becoming an astronaut. But once I got into the program, I wanted to fly….