Black astronauts say 90-year-old Ed Dwight's 1st trip to space was 'justice'

ByGina Sunseri and Bill Hutchinson ABCNews logo
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Hours after his historic first trip to space, 90-year-old Ed Dwight sat among three retired Black NASA astronauts who thanked him for forging a path for them to go into orbit and called his voyage aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard NS-25 spacecraft "justice."

More than six decades after President John F. Kennedy tapped him to be the nation's first Black astronaut candidate to the elite Aerospace Research Pilot School -- the Air Force program from which NASA astronauts were chosen -- Dwight finally accomplished on Sunday what he was denied all those years ago.

When he returned to Earth as the oldest person ever to travel to space, he was greeted and applauded by retired NASA astronauts and Space Shuttle veterans Leland Melvin, Charles Bolden and Bernard Harris who told him their achievements were only made possible by standing on his shoulders.

"Now we have justice in getting the history books filled with Ed Dwight flying into space and getting his justice," Melvin, who flew on two space missions aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis, told ABC News.

Despite being appointed by Kennedy to the Aerospace Research Pilot School and recommended by the Air Force, Dwight was not chosen for the NASA astronaut corps in the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination.

After entering private life in 1966, Dwight spent a decade as an entrepreneur before becoming a sculptor of historic Black figures. He told ABC News that after leaving the Air Force, he conceded he was haunted by the feeling of not being able to accomplish his goal of becoming an astronaut.

"Every time I started a project, I've got it finished. And here this thing came along and it was a great big mysterious question mark sitting there," Dwight said. "And so, the tendency for human beings in a situation like that is to blow it off and say you don't need it."

But he said as more and more supporters and fans encouraged him to seize the opportunity, he began "analyzing the necessity of bringing it up to the front of my brain."

"I found out that I did need that because I needed to finish it," Dwight said.

Dwight was one of six people who blasted off to space from the remote Texas desert on Sunday aboard the New Shepard. Dwight's flight was sponsored by the nonprofit Space for Humanity.

A retired Air Force captain, Dwight told ABC News that it wasn't the weightlessness from zero G-force gravity that he was most interested in, saying he had experienced plenty of that during his time training in the 1960s.

"I wanted to look outside," Dwight said. "I was told by several people that I respect that given the choice of being weightless for 10 minutes or something like that or looking, it was determined that looking was a hell of a lot more important to me because I'm a curious person."

He added, "When you see something as magnanimous as this Earth is and you really pay attention to it, it's mind-boggling. I mean, it shakes up your head."

Dwight said the experience was life-altering and suggested that every elected leader to Congress be required to view Earth from space.

"If they were to fly around this globe two or three times they would see the necessity of this planet [being] unified and see what they're losing by destroying it," Dwight said.

Harris, who flew on two NASA Space Shuttle missions, said that as he watched Dwight finally achieve his goal, he thought of what doors might have been opened earlier for Black Americans had Dwight become an astronaut six decades ago.

"I dreamed of being an astronaut by looking at Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when I was 13 years old," Harris said. "What if Ed had actually flown? What a difference it would have made in my life because, during that time, I didn't see anyone that looked like me."

Turning to Dwight seated next to him, Harris said, "And so, to see you today lift off, we all cried. And we really appreciate what you did today and what you did for us years ago."

Bolden, who flew on four Space Shuttle missions before becoming the first Black Administrator of NASA, said seeing Dwight go to space "filled a hole."

"We really, really, really needed this," said Bolden, calling Dwight an example to young people that any goal can be achieved with "persistence."

Asked by ABC News what's left on his bucket list, Dwight laughed and said his space voyage was like "getting a taste of honey."

"I want a whole jar of that," Dwight said. "I'd like to go into orbit. That's what I'd like to do."

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