First Black man who trained as astronaut finally going to space at 90 on Bezos rocket

First Black man who trained as astronaut finally going to space at 90 on Bezos rocket

Ed Dwight, the first Black man to train to be an astronaut, never ended up making it to space 60 years ago. But that will all change this weekend.

On Sunday, Mr Dwight, aged 90, will join five others on a Blue Origin flight, the space travel company owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. The 11-minute flight will take them into zero gravity, so passengers can experience weightlessness and view the Earth’s horizon, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Mr Dwight, who grew up in Kentucky under segregation, joined the Air Force in 1953. The decision lead him to almost becoming one of the country’s first astronauts.

Ed Dwight, the first Black man to train as an astronaut, pictured in 2023. On Sunday, he will become the oldest person to go to space (Getty Images for National Geogra)

In 1961, the US established the Aerospace Research Pilot School. President John F Kennedy’s administration urged them to recruit a Black Air Force officer, and soon afterwards, Mr Dwight received a letter inviting him to attend, the Associated Press reported.

While there, he experienced racism from his colleagues including First Commandant of the school, Chuck Yaeger, who died in 2020.

“They were all instructed to give me the cold shoulder,” Mr Dwight said of his fellow trainees earlier this year. “Yeager had a meeting with the students and the staff in the auditorium and announced it — that Washington was trying to shove this N-word down our throats.”

Ed Dwight (centre) pictured with fellow trainees in 1963 at the Aerospace Research Pilot School. Mr Dwight retired from the Air Force in 1966 (Getty Images)

As the program went on, Mr Dwight became one of 26 people recommended by Air Force officials to join NASA. But when the space organisation released their list of chosen astronauts in 1963, Mr Dwight didn’t make the cut, according to the Associated Press.

After JFK was assassinated, Mr Dwight said that he thought his career as an astronaut was finished, The Wall Street Journal reports. He retired from the Air Force in 1966.

Ed Dwight, centre, with the five others who will join him in space on Sunday. Mr Dwight, the first Black man to train to be an astronaut, was rejected by NASA just before President John F Kennedy was assassinated (BLUE ORIGIN/AFP via Getty Images)

On Sunday, Mr Dwight will become the oldest person to go to space, surpassing Star Trek actor William Shatner by a matter of months after he flew in 2021 at the age of 90 with Blue Origin.

Mr Dwight told the Associated Press that he is proud to have been a role model for the Black astronauts who came after him.

“It’s good for them in that they didn’t have to go through this crap that I went through, it was a goddamn distraction,” he said. “It’s like wanting to have eyes in the back of your head for all the stuff that was coming at you. I had to absorb that graciously.”

“If I talked about it — ‘Oh, crybaby! You couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that.’ That’s what would have happened if I stepped up to the mic and complained,” he continued.

The Blue Origin New Shepard rocket pictured launching. Mr Dwight’s son and grandchildren will watch him take off in the aircraft on Sunday (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Dwight’s son, Chris Dwight, told The Wall Street Journal he will be watching his father take off on Sunday. Mr Dwight’s grandchildren will be there to cheer him on, too.

“It’s really going to hit home for them what their grandfather has accomplished,” Chris Dwight told the Journal. “I think it’s going to be one of those things like, ‘Wow, that is my family, my forebears, that is going into space,’ something not many people have done.”