Last Friday, NASA commemorated 50 years since the death of the first African American, Robert Lawrence Jr. He died on December 8th, 1967, as his plane crashed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Several hundreds of people, including NASA officials and astronauts, gathered at Kennedy Space Center to honor the lost astronaut.
Lawrence was the first African American astronaut
Lawrence was a member of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a space program developed by the Air Force which was planning to send him and other astronauts into space. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it out there. While he was flying in a F-104 Starfighter and was getting ready to land, he crashed and died at the age of 32.
Lawrence was the first African American to be part of a space program of any kind, and he probably would have been the first the fly into space. He was the one who inspired many other people of the same ethnicity to enroll for such programs. Therefore, NASA thought an elaborated ceremony was more than necessary to honor the memory of the astronaut.
He was one of the astronauts who had a PhD
If Lawrence survived and remained an Air Force astronaut, he might have not ended up into space so quickly. The Manned Orbiting Laboratory program got canceled in 1969, and all the other members of the mission became NASA astronauts. This way, many of them got the chance to fly into space.
Lawrence was of a remarkable intelligence, and had impressive academic achievements. He finished high school at 16 and college at 20, and earned a PhD in chemistry. This was quite unusual among astronauts, and would definitely have had many other bright achievements if he had survived. Everybody is grieving his loss, and honoring the great contributions he brought to the world of astronomy.
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