by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
After the box-office success of the Fox 2000 feature film “Hidden Figures” (full disclosure – I worked as a writer on that project) in 2016, several African-American women who worked at NASA and contributed to the space race, such as the recently departed Katherine Johnson, finally became a celebrated part of the cultural zeitgeist.
It was at that time I realized I knew the names of some black astronauts (Mae Jemison, Charles Bolden) – but didn’t know who the first black astronauts were or how they contributed to the space program. So I did some research and was thrilled to learn about Guion “Guy” Bluford, Ron McNair and Frederick Gregory – the first three African-Americans in space (the first person of African descent was Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez).
Recently, the Smithsonian Channel released the documentary (watch above) “Black in Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” which primarily chronicles the journeys of Buford, McNair and Gregory. To learn more about them, read below:
Buford, McNair and Gregory were all NASA classmates in the “Class of 1978,” when NASA re-invigorated the space program after not sending anyone into space since Apollo 17 took its last journey in 1972.
This was also the class that was the first to train women as astronauts (Sally Ride) as well as the first Asian-American man (Ellison Onizuka).
Out of 8,000 applicants, only 35 were selected. While in the program, the astronauts-to-be spent a year going through a battery of tests, training and simulations to prep them all for potential flight on the NASA space shuttle program. (The Space Shuttle program was instituted to carry huge payloads in space, conduct experiments in space, and also to allow the U.S. and other countries to launch probes and satellites from space to enable further exploration of our solar system, other galaxies and the universe.) Continue reading “Story of 1st Black Astronauts Told in Smithsonian Channel Documentary “Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” (WATCH)”