Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., First Black Astronaut, To Be Honored

The Air Force major died before going to space.

first black astronaut
First black astronaut Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. standing next to an F-104 Starfighter. (U.S. Air Force)

A gold jar containing the bust of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., America’s first black astronaut, will be carried to space when the SpaceX rocket Enoch launches next week.

The rocket launch, which is carrying over 60 small satellites, is part of the SSO-A SmallSat Express mission, reports.

Lawrence, a military major, was selected in 1967 to be a part of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program. The program was a join effort of the National Reconnaissance Office and the Air Force, of which Lawrence was a member. The program’s goal was to send small crews into Earth’s orbit for the purpose of spying on then Soviet Union and other rivals.

Unfortunately, Lawrence was killed when his F-104 Starfighter jet crashed during a routine exercise at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. The pilot was just 32 at the time. Many believe Lawrence, had he survived the accident, would have made it into orbit.

In 1983, NASA astronaut Guion Bluford Jr. was the first African-American astronaut to make it to space when he served as the mission specialist on space shuttle Challenger.


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