Celebrating African Americans in Aviation
Major Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.
Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. was born on October 2, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois. An exceptionally bright child, at age 16 he graduated in the top 10% at Englewood High School, and at the age of 20 became a graduate of Bradley University with a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry. In addition, while a student at Bradley University, he distinguished himself as Cadet Commander of the Bradley Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and, upon graduation, received the commission of Second Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve Program.
He became an Air Force pilot at the age of 21, and by age 26 had completed an Air Force assignment as an instructor pilot in the T-33 training aircraft for members of the German Air Force. At the age of 30, Major Lawrence earned a Doctorate Degree in Physical Chemistry from Ohio State University, and by 32 was a senior pilot with over 2,500 flying hours, 2,000 of these in jet aircraft. In June 1967, Lawrence was selected to become an astronaut for the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, becoming the first black astronaut on June 10, 1967.
Major Lawrence's contribution to the current space program can be found in his early work as a test pilot who flew several of the F-104 Starfighter jet aircraft approach and landings tests at Edwards Air Force Base located in California. Lawrence flew several research flights in the F-104 in an effort to test various theories related to un-powered flight that has led up to the present day design of the Orbiter that permits it to glide from space to landing. On December 8, 1967, while flying backseat on a mission as the instructor pilot for a flight test trainee learning the steep-descent glide technique, the pilot lost control of the aircraft and crash landed. While both ejected from the aircraft, the pilot sustained major injuries, and Lawrence's injuries were fatal.
On December 8, 1997, his name was inscribed on the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an honor for all U.S. astronauts who have lost their lives on space missions or in training for missions.
Guion S. Bluford, Jr.
Guion "Guy" Bluford, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 22, 1942. Bluford attended Overbrook Senior High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 1964, a M.S. in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) in 1974, a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering with a minor in laser physics, again from AFIT, in 1978, and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Houston–Clear Lake in 1987.
He attended pilot training at Williams Air Force Base and received his wings in 1966. Assigned to the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, Guion Bluford flew 144 combat missions, 65 over North Vietnam. After Vietnam, Guy spent five years as a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. In 1978, he learned he was one of the 35 astronaut candidates selected from a field of over 10,000. Guion Bluford entered the astronaut training program, and became an astronaut in August 1979. Guy's first mission was STS-8 aboard the space shuttle Challenger, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 30, 1983. This was Challenger's third flight but the first mission with a night launch and night landing. It also made Bluford the first African-American astronaut to fly in space.
Col. Guion Bluford served on three more shuttle mission during his NASA career; STS 61-A, also aboard the Challenger, STS-39 aboard the space shuttle Discovery, and STS-53 also aboard Discovery. He has received many medals, awards, and accolades, and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997. He retired from NASA in 1993. In 1997 he became Vice President of the Aerospace Sector of Federal Data Corporation, and in October 2000 became the Vice President of Microgravity R&D and Operations for the Northrop Grumman Corporation. He retired from Northrop Grumman in September, 2002 to become the President of the Aerospace Technology, an engineering consulting organization in Cleveland, Ohio.
Mae Carol Jemison
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. As a child, Jemison had a fascination with science and wanted to be a scientist. Jemison graduated from Chicago's Morgan Park High School in 1973 and entered Stanford University at age 16. She graduated from Stanford in 1977, with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering and fulfilling the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies. Jemison then went on to obtain her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1981 from Cornell Medical College (now Weill Medical College of Cornell University) and then interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and later worked as a general practitioner.
After completing her medical internship, Jemison joined the staff of the Peace Corps and served as a Peace Corps Medical Officer from 1983 to 1985, responsible for the health of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone. When she returned to America, and after the flight of the first female astronaut, Sally Ride, Jemison applied to NASA. Jemison was turned down on her first application, but in 1987 Jemison was accepted on her second application. Jemison flew her only space mission from September 12 to 20, 1992 as a Mission Specialist on STS-47 on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman to travel in space.