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Kennedy Space Centre honours 1st black astronaut

HERO: Robert Lawrence Jr. (Photo credit: AP)

ROBERT LAWRENCE Jr., America’s first black astronaut was honored on December 8 for his contributions to space exploration at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

According to the Los Angeles Times, hundreds gathered at the centre in commemoration of what Lawrence Jr. did for black people in STEM, including his relatives, NASA dignitaries, astronauts, Omega Psi Phi fraternity members, and schoolchildren.

Lawrence Jr. was born in 1935 to Gwendolyn Duncan and Robert H. Lawrence, Sr. Long before magnet and STEM programs were part of the high school curriculum, Lawrence excelled in math and science and at 16 years-old, he graduated with honours from Englewood High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University.

As a United States Air Force pilot, Lawrence gained over 2,500 flight hours. In June 1967, he graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (Class ‘66B) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif and was selected by the USAF as an astronaut for their Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, becoming the first black astronaut.

He was 32 years-old 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.

Lawrence was honoured on the 50th anniversary of his death.

While his career was short-lived, Lawrence paved the way for other black astronauts after him, including Guy Bluford, who in 1983 became the first black person in space, and Dr. Mae Jemison, who became the first black woman to travel to space in 1992.

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