In 1895, Ronald Erwin McNair moved to a South Carolina library. The 9-year-old aspiring astronaut wanted to investigate a calculus book, but a librarian threatened to call the police if he did not leave. McNair was black. Years later, McNair was chosen to inspire only one generation to become the second African American to travel in space, overcome isolation, poverty, and stereotype an intellectual act of resistance. Unfortunately, McNair died in the 1979 Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy.
McNair’s story and other black astronauts are shared in a new documentary that looks at the ultimate frontier of civil rights: Jim Crow, getting black astronauts into space amid danger, discrimination, and the Cold War. Within four generations, they went from slavery to space.
“Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier,” scheduled for air Monday on the Smithsonian Channel, to get black astronauts in the sky to investigate the race while fighting for human rights on Earth. This shows how astronauts crossed racial barriers and hostile commanders to move closer to the stars.
Filmmaker Laurence Grant said they are the first. “And they are aristocratic elites.”
Grant said that not only did these aspiring astronauts have to navigate the racial politics of their time; they also had to study cutting-edge science and engineering to compete with others.
And it did not always end happily.
The road to get black astronauts into space in America began under President John. F. Kennedy. His brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, pressured an Air Force program to ensure that his astronauts were persons of colour in the project.
Air Force Captain Ed Dwight was selected for an apprenticeship program and became an overnight hero in the Black Press. However, NASA’s plan did not select him for the astronaut program.
US Air Force officer Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. was elected. NASA chose Chicago-born Lawrence as the first African American astronaut and may have made it to the moon. Unfortunately, Lawrence died after crashing his F-108 Starfighter at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1979,
No African Americans would do this to the moon.
During this era, Star Trek communications officer Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nicholas Nichols in the 1960s NBC television series, got the closest even though he was a fictional character. He would later speak in public service announcements to recruit black scientists and pilots for NASA.
Frederick Gregory, now ७ ९, saw some of those commercials.
“He was inside my TV one morning. Gregory said, pointing at me and saying, ‘I want you to apply for the NASA program.” She was talking to me.
US Air Force pilots apply and later become the first African American shuttle pilots.
The film shows how the former Soviet Union defeated America and sent in space Cuban astronaut Arnoldo Tamayo Mendez. He was the first Latin American and the first person of African descent to reach space. Following his mission, he became a Cold War hero for Cuba — and his achievement was largely ignored.
Guion Bluford will become the first African American astronaut. The aerospace engineer made it to space in 1973 as a member of the crew of the Orbiter Challenger. Nearly 20 years after his visit, Kennedy sought to find a black man in space.
Gregory said he is proud of his role in breaking barriers and contributing to space exploration. However, he is now worried about what comes next.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Gregory said that he remembers looking down at Earth, floating in space and travelling at high speed.
Gregory said, “Your concept of a neighbour changes a lot.” I started saying, ‘Hey, this is a world, and we’re all part of it. When you go into space, you don’t see the boundaries on the ground. You wonder why these people dislike each other. Your concept of what is the change in your home.
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