UNITED STATES NEWS

America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally goes to space 60 years later on Bezos rocket

May 19, 2024, 7:54 AM

VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally rocketed into space 60 years later, flying with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company on Sunday.

Ed Dwight was an Air Force pilot when President John F. Kennedy championed him as a candidate for NASA’s early astronaut corps. But he wasn’t picked for the 1963 class.

Dwight, now 90, got to experience a few minutes of weightlessness with five other passengers aboard the Blue Origin capsule as it skimmed space.

Launch officials said all of the astronauts were well shortly after the capsule parachuted down after a flight of roughly 10 minutes.

The brief flight from West Texas made Dwight the new record-holder for oldest person in space — nearly two months older than “Star Trek” actor William Shatner was when he went up in 2021.

It was Blue Origin’s first crew launch in nearly two years. The company was grounded following a 2022 accident in which the booster came crashing down but the capsule full of experiments safely parachuted to the ground. Flights resumed last December, but with no one aboard. This was Blue Origin’s seventh time flying space tourists.

Dwight, a sculptor from Denver, was joined by four business entrepreneurs from the U.S. and France and a retired accountant. Their ticket prices were not disclosed; Dwight’s seat was sponsored in part by the nonprofit Space for Humanity.

Dwight was among the potential astronauts the Air Force recommended to NASA. But he wasn’t chosen for the 1963 class, which included eventual Gemini and Apollo astronauts, including Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. NASA didn’t select Black astronauts until 1978, and Guion Bluford became the first African American in space in 1983. Three years earlier, the Soviets launched the first Black astronaut, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, a Cuban of African descent.

After leaving the military in 1966, Dwight joined IBM and started a construction company, before earning a master’s degree in sculpture in the late 1970s. He’s since dedicated himself to art. His sculptures focus on Black history and include memorials and monuments across the country. Several of his sculptures have flown into space.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally goes to space 60 years later on Bezos rocket