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From: Julius Wong5/20/2024 9:27:49 PM
   of 206280
 
Ed Dwight, the First Black Astronaut Candidate in the U.S., Finally Travels to Space at 90 Years Old

The former Air Force pilot trained to become an astronaut in the 1960s but was never selected by NASA. On a Blue Origin flight Sunday, he became the oldest person to go to space



Ed Dwight celebrates after landing back on Earth following Sunday morning's ten-minute flight to space. Blue Origin via X

More than 60 years after he became the United States’ first Black astronaut candidate, Ed Dwight finally flew to space.

On Sunday, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket carried six people to and from the Kármán line—the boundary 62 miles above Earth’s surface where the atmosphere ends and space begins. Dwight, a former Air Force captain, was among the crew. President John F. Kennedy selected him as an astronaut candidate in 1961, but Dwight was never admitted to NASA’s astronaut training program and had never been to space.

After stepping out of the capsule last weekend upon his return to Earth, the 90-year-old Dwight lifted both arms over his head in celebration.

“Fantastic! A life-changing experience. Everyone needs to do this!” he said, per NPR’s Scott Neuman. “I didn’t know I needed this in my life, but now I need it in my life.”

Dwight was born in 1933 Kansas City, Kansas. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953, completed pilot training and served as a military fighter pilot, according to his personal website. In 1957, he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Arizona State University.

As part of his preparation for becoming an astronaut, Dwight completed the experimental test pilot course and aerospace research pilot training and performed duties as an aerospace research pilot, per his website. Though the Air Force recommended him for astronaut training with NASA, he was not selected, per the Washington Post’s Christian Davenport.

Dwight left the military in 1966 and had a wide-ranging career: He worked for IBM, developed a restaurant chain and founded a real estate company. He later became a sculptor, creating bronzes of important Black figures in American history, including pioneers in the American West and famous jazz musicians. His sculptures are installed in museums across the country.



Ed Dwight in the cockpit of an F-104 in the 1960s. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Sunday, Dwight joined five other people on the New Shepard rocket’s trip to space: Mason Angel, the founder of a venture capital fund; Sylvain Chiron, the founder of a craft brewery in France; Kenneth L. Hess, a software engineer and entrepreneur; Gopi Thotakura, a pilot and aviator; and Carol Schaller, a retired accountant who has been traveling the world since being told by her doctor in 2017 that she will go blind.

The launch marked the seventh time Blue Origin has carried tourists to space on one of its rockets. It has now transported 37 people in total on trips beyond the Kármán line, where they experience weightlessness and overhead views of Earth on roughly 11-minute flights.

Blue Origin conducted 16 test flights of its New Shepard rocket, which concluded in 2021. The first crewed flight launched on July 20, 2021, with four people on board—including Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder. Sunday’s launch was Blue Origin’s first tourism flight since an uncrewed rocket’s engine failed during a flight a year and a half ago, per the Washington Post.

The recent flight launched from Texas at 9:35 a.m. local time on Sunday, and the capsule delivered the travelers back to Earth at 9:45 a.m., per the New York Times’ Amanda Holpuch.

New Shepard is fully autonomous, meaning it has no pilot. The capsule landed with only two of its three parachutes deployed, but it has been designed to safely land with only one parachute if necessary, per the Blue Origin website.

Dwight is now the oldest person to ever travel to space, surpassing the actor William Shatner, who also flew on a New Shepard rocket in 2021.

“You’ve waited a long time for this opportunity and all of us who stand on your shoulders could not be happier,” Charles Bolden, the first Black NASA administrator, says to ABC News’ Nadine El-Bawab and Bill Hutchinson in a message to Dwight before the flight launched. “I know how much you have dreamed about this, and I want you to take some time while you are flying to suck it all up and take it all in. You deserve every moment of this. You’ve been a role model and mentor for many of us for so long, and we’re with you there in spirit.”

Dwight tells NPR that he wants to go to space again. “I want to go into orbit. I want to go around the Earth and see the whole Earth.”

smithsonianmag.com
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