First Black astronaut candidate, now 90, reaches space in Blue Origin flight

Sixty-one years since he was selected but ultimately passed over to become the first Black astronaut, Ed Dwight finally reached space in a Blue Origin rocket – and set a different record.

At 10.37am on Sunday, Jeff Bezos’s space company launched its NS-25 mission from west Texas, marking Blue Origin’s first crewed spaceflight since 2022 when its New Shepard rocket was grounded due to a mid-flight failure.

On board were six crew members, including Dwight, a retired US air force captain who at 90 years old now becomes the oldest person to reach the edge of space.

In 1961, Dwight was chosen by President John F Kennedy to train as an astronaut at the Aerospace Research Pilot School, but was ultimately not selected for the Nasa Astronaut Corps.

Since entering private life in 1966, Dwight spent a decade as an entrepreneur, before turning to sculpture to honor Black history, Blue Origin said on its website. Dwight has created large-scale monuments of various major Black figures including Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and has more than 130 of his public works installed in museums and public spaces across the US and Canada.

“I had no intention of being an astronaut. That was the last thing on my bucket list,” Dwight told a 2023 National Geographic documentary, The Space Race. “But once I was given the challenge, then everything changes.”

Dwight’s seat was sponsored by Space for Humanity, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding space access.

Dwight becomes the oldest person to fly to the edge of space, surpassing the record set by actor William Shatner who flew on another Blue Origin flight in October 2021.

The Blue Origin flights pass the 62-mile altitude Karman Line, an internationally accepted boundary of space.

The late John Glenn, a former astronaut and Ohio senator, still holds the record of the oldest person to enter Earth’s orbit. In 1998, Glenn was sent into space at 77-year old via the Discovery space shuttle.

Following the capsule’s touchdown, Dwight exited the capsule, pumped his fist in the air and said: “I thought I really didn’t need this in my life but now I need this in my life. I am ecstatic … It was a life-changing experience. Everybody needs to do this.”

Other crew members include venture capitalist Mason Angel, craft brewery founder Sylvain Chiron, software engineer Kenneth Hess, retired CPA Carol Schaller, and pilot Gopi Thotakura.

In recent years, space tourism, largely spearheaded by billionaires including Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, has rapidly expanded.

Last August, spaceflight company Virgin Galactic, which is founded by Branson, successfully flew six tourists including the first mother-daughter duo in a suborbital flight that allowed passengers to see the Earth’s curvature.

Meanwhile, in 2021, Musk’s SpaceX launched the world’s first “amateur astronaut” crew on a private flight to orbit Earth for three days, a trip that mission commander Jared Isaacman described as a “heck of a ride” following touchdown.


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