Kennedy Space Center Honors 1st Black Astronaut, Robert Lawrence Jr.

Kennedy Space Center Honors 1st Black Astronaut, Robert Lawrence Jr.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

The trailblazing astronaut finally received his full honors for helping pave the way.

Air Force Maj. Robert Lawrence Jr., America’s first black astronaut who opened a door for people of color in STEM, was honored on Dec. 8 for his contributions to space exploration at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hundreds gathered at the center in commemoration, including his relatives, NASA dignitaries, astronauts, Omega Psi Phi fraternity members, and schoolchildren the Los Angeles Times reported.

Lawrence was honored on the 50th anniversary of his death. He was 32 when his F-104 Starfighter crashed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Dec. 8, 1967, dying before getting a chance to fly in space.

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Lawrence earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Bradley University at 20 years old, then a doctoral degree in physical chemistry in 1965. He’d go on to join the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, a classified military space program set up to spy on the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

It took 30 years after his death before the Air Force added his name to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Space Mirror. Lawrence’s family had reportedly been fighting for his recognition for decades. The Force would not acknowledge that he was an astronaut because he never had the opportunity to fly as high as the 1960s-required altitude of 50 miles.

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Though his career was short-lived, Lawrence is said to have  paved the way for other black astronauts like Guy Bluford, who in 1983 became the first black person in space, and Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel to space in 1992.

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