Ed Dwight To Finally Get His Flight to Space

Ed Dwight To Finally Get His Flight to Space

Ed Dwight will finally get to reach space on Blue Origin’s next flight of New Shepard. Like Wally Funk and the other “Mercury 13” women who thought they were in line to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s, Dwight was the only African American in the training process back then. Like them, he was not selected as white males exclusively became astronauts until 1978. He will fly on NS-25, the first Blue Origin passenger flight in almost two years. The date was not announced.

Ed Dwight. Credit: ABC News (screengrab from interview)

In recent years, Dwight’s story has been told in publications like Smithsonian Magazine and the National Geographic documentary The Space Race. In a February 2024 interview with ABC News’ Byron Pitts about the documentary, Dwight agreed with the characterization that he is one of the “Hidden Figures” of the space program. That’s a reference to the book and movie about African American women mathematicians working at NASA in the early days of the space program whose contributions were overlooked until now.

Dwight recounts that President John F. Kennedy wanted a black astronaut. All the white astronauts chosen at the time were military pilots and Dwight was one of the few black test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base. The Air Force complied and Captain Dwight was enrolled in the Aerospace Research Pilot School led by Chuck Yeager. Dwight says he fought discrimination there and although he was one of 26 people recommended by the Air Force for the NASA astronaut corps, was not selected. A month later, Kennedy was assassinated and the push to include a black astronaut faded. He remained in the Air Force for several more years, then left and eventually became an acclaimed sculptor of historical African American icons.

In 1978, NASA selected a diverse group of 35 astronauts including six women and three African Americans — Guy Bluford, Fred Gregory, and Ron McNair. Bluford became the first African American in space in 1983.  (Cuba’s Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez is considered the first black, and first Latin American, person in space. He flew on the Soviet Union’s Soyuz 38 mission in 1980.)

At 90, Dwight finally will get his chance to make a trip to space on Blue Origin’s reusable, suborbital New Shepard rocket. New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space, flies to an altitude just above the Karman Line at 100 kilometers that the international community uses as the delineation between air and space. The entire flight lasts about 10 minutes with two or three of them in microgravity.

Liftoff of Blue Origin’s New Shepard-16 (NS-16) mission carrying Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, July 20, 2021. Credit: Blue Origin

Dwight isn’t the first historical figure to finally get a flight to space on New Shepard. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos invited Funk to be on the first New Shepard passenger flight. She joined Bezos, his brother Mark, and German teenager Oliver Daemen on NS-16 on July 20, 2021, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

Blue Origin flew six more passenger flights through May 2022 with luminaries like actor William Shatner who portrayed Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series. But in September 2022, New Shepard suffered a failure, only its second since the very first flight in 2015. Fortunately, NS-23 carried only scientific experiments, not people.

To this day, Blue Origin has said very little about the failure other than it was due to the structural failure of an engine nozzle because of overheating. The company stressed the capsule separated as planned when automated systems detected a problem and landed safely with the scientific experiments intact. But it was more than a year before New Shepard flew again in December 2023. NS-24 carried only experiments.

Now the company is ready to fly passengers again, although they did not set the date today.

Joining Dwight on NS-25 are Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Ken Hess, Carol Schaller, and Gopi Thotakura.

Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin and its competitor, Virgin Galactic, tout their suborbital flights as a way to “democratize” space, making spaceflight available to ordinary people, but it’s still expensive. Space for Humanity, a non-profit that also seeks to democratize space, is sponsoring Dwight’s flight along with the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation. Jaison Robinson flew on NS-21 in June 2022.

Funk was 82 when she got to experience spaceflight first hand.

Dwight will be 90 and the oldest person to fly to space. Born on September 9, 1933 in Kansas City, KS, he’ll be 90 years and more than 7 months. Shatner holds the record right now. He was 90 years and not quite 7 months when he made his flight in October 2021.

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