At the age of 90, America’s first Black astronaut candidate made it to space

Ed Dwight was photographed for a portrait in February to promote the National Geographic documentary film “The Space Race” during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour. The image credit goes to Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP.

Ed Dwight, an inspiring figure, graciously poses for a captivating portrait to promote the thought-provoking National Geographic documentary film titled “The Space Race.” This captivating moment was captured during the Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in February.

Ed Dwight, the man who came close to becoming America’s first Black astronaut over 60 years ago, finally got the chance to venture into space at the age of 90. Accompanied by five other crew members, he embarked on his first space journey aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on Sunday.

In a historic moment, the commercial space venture led by billionaire Jeff Bezos successfully launched its first passenger flight in almost two years from a West Texas launch site. This momentous suborbital flight, lasting around 10 minutes, achieved a remarkable feat by making Dwight the oldest person ever to reach space. He claimed this title, surpassing actor William Shatner from “Star Trek” by just a few months, who had previously held the record after ascending on a New Shepard rocket in 2021.

Dwight, a retired accountant, shared the capsule with a diverse group of individuals. Among them were Mason Angel, a venture capitalist; Sylvain Chiron, the founder of a French craft brewery; Kenneth Hess, an entrepreneur; Gopi Thotakura, an aviator; and Carol Schaller, another retired accountant.

The rocket soared beyond 347,000 feet, surpassing the 330,000 foot high Kármán line – the recognized threshold of space. During this remarkable journey, they were privileged to encounter fleeting moments of weightlessness.

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The New Shepard booster made a gentle landing near the launch site, creating a cloud of dust upon touchdown. Meanwhile, the crew capsule safely descended with two out of three parachutes successfully deployed. Unfortunately, one of the chutes did not fully open as intended.

With a triumphant expression on his face, Dwight emerged from the capsule and raised both fists in the air, exuding an overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment.

“It was absolutely incredible! This experience has truly transformed my life. I cannot stress enough how important it is for everyone to have this experience,” he exclaimed. “I never realized how much I needed this in my life, but now I cannot imagine my life without it.”

According to his statement, the separation of the rocket and the capsule turned out to be more dynamic than he had expected.

During the 1960s, Dwight, a captain in the Air Force, found himself on the fast track for space flight when President John F. Kennedy requested the inclusion of a Black astronaut. Despite excelling in test pilot school and ranking in the top half of his class, Dwight was ultimately overlooked for the opportunity to become an astronaut. He shared the details of his journey in his autobiography, “Soaring On The Wings Of A Dream: The Untold Story of America’s First Black Astronaut Candidate.”

After his time in the Air Force, Dwight pursued a career as a renowned sculptor, focusing on crafting lifelike representations of significant African American individuals from history.

In a phone conversation with NPR, Dwight expressed his excitement after Sunday’s launch, stating, “Now I can brag about it.”

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“I’ve been referred to as an astronaut for all these years,” Dwight remarked, “but now I have a small pin that actually makes me one… and that’s a whole new level.”

During his Air Force career, he mentioned that he had reached altitudes of up to 80,000 feet in test flights. However, on New Shepard, where he soared four times higher, the curvature of the Earth became more apparent. He described the experience as if someone had suddenly drawn the curtains down over the windows, highlighting the distinct boundary between the atmosphere and space.

Dwight’s ticket cost is being split between Blue Origin, Space for Humanity, and the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Family Foundation. (Jaison Robinson, who previously flew on a Blue Origin flight, sits on the NPR Foundation Board of Trustees.)

In July 2020, the inaugural crewed New Shepard flight took off, with Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, pilot Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Dutch citizen Oliver Daemen on board. Notably, Daemen became the youngest person to ever venture into space at the time of the launch.

In an interview with NPR, Dwight expressed his eagerness to venture into space once again. He enthusiastically stated, “I am ready to go into orbit and witness the breathtaking view of the Earth from above. It is my ultimate desire to encircle our planet and witness its sheer beauty.”

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