Robert H. Lawrence, Jr.
First African American Astronaut
States Air Force
was born on October 2, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois.
the age of 16, he was a graduate in the top 10% of Englewood High
School. At the age of 20,
he became a graduate of Bradley University with a Bachelor's Degree in
Chemistry. In addition,
while a student at Bradley University, he distinguished himself as Cadet
Commander of the Bradley Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and,
upon graduation, received the commission of Second Lieutenant in the Air
Force Reserve Program.
the age of 21 he had become an Air Force pilot after completing flight
training at Malden Air Force Base.
the age of 22, he married the former Ms. Barbara Cress, the daughter of
Dr. and Mrs. Henry Cress of Chicago.
As he approached the age of 26, he had completed an Air Force
assignment as an instructor pilot in the T-33 training aircraft for
members of the German Air Force.
the age of 30, Major Lawrence earned a Doctorate Degree in Physical Chemistry from Ohio State
University during which time his grade point average (GPA) was above
3.5. His dissertation
related to that part of chemistry which involved the conversion of
tritium rays to methane gas.
the age of 31, he served two roles in the Air Force;
that of an Air Force pilot and also a research scientist in the
Air Force Weapon's Laboratory at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
At the age of 32, Major Lawrence was a senior pilot with over 2,500 flying hours, 2,000 of
these in jet aircraft. Major
Lawrence successfully completed the Air Force Test Pilot
Training School at Edwards Air Force Base in June 1967 and was selected
to become an astronaut (Click here to see Major Lawrence as an astronaut) in the USAF's
Orbiting Laboratory and therein becoming the First
African American Astronaut on June
to the current space program can be found in his early work as a test
pilot who flew several of the
Starfighter jet aircraft approach and landings tests at Edwards Air
Force Base located in California.
had been observed in the mid 1960's that if an F-104 was flown in a certain configuration (that is,
landing gear extended, speed brakes down and drag chute open to increase
the force of drag) that it could be used to test various theories
regarding the gliding of a space vehicle to a landing on earth similar
to that of the landing of the
test aircraft. Major Lawrence, as a
flew several research flights in the F-104 in an effort to test various theories related to
un-powered flight that has led up to the present day design of the
Orbiter that will permit it to glide from space to the landing that can be viewed on television during every
Space Shuttle mission. The
Orbiter , unlike a
passenger jet aircraft does not have engines mounted under its wings or
at the rear that an airline pilot can use to control the landing of such
a large jet aircraft. At an
altitude of approximately 200 miles, the Orbiter
"breaks out of its circular orbit" and glides
back to earth for landing. The
Orbiter has to land successfully each time, because it, as
previously indicated, has no engines to attempt a second approach.
design did not instantly occur on a designer's drafting board, but is
the end result of years of research flying dating back as far as the 1950's during which time a variety
of aircraft were used to test various theories regarding un-powered
flight. The most popular
aircraft of this generation is the X-15. It is at this
point in the evolution of a space vehicle that would have the capability
of gliding to earth Major Lawrence's contribution begins to emerge.
Major Lawrence flew several F-104 simulated landings, the flight in which he lost his life
was a flight in which he flew in the role of co-pilot and instructor
pilot when the student that he was instructing lost control of the
aircraft, leading to the crash that took his life.
(Click here to see the accident report)
addition to the above, it has been pointed out that Major Lawrence was selected as an astronaut for a mission that the general
public would view as the International
Space Station. During
the days of Major Lawrence, the program was given the name of the Manned
an astronaut, Major Lawrence
emerges as one of the early pioneers of the space program by assisting
in the development and testing of a variety of odd hybrid vehicles that
would one day take man into space. In addition, he helped pioneer many of the astronaut training
programs. If there were no individuals willing to go through the risks and
dangers associated with extended space flight, there would not be a
space station. (Click
here to see Major Lawrence as a Test Pilot) The
development and evolution of the many space station designs over the
past 30 years was possible because of men like Major Lawrence and all of the other astronauts who had overcome the fears,
risks and dangers associated with space flight.
is both fitting and proper that visitors in general, and African
Americans in specific, of this website remember Major Robert H.
Lawrence, Jr. because he gave African Americans the history
wherein the early development of America's space program cannot be
written without including African Americans. In
addition, major Lawrence left African Americans a strong presence and legacy in
regard to the early development and evolution of America's space program
because he took the risk and paid with his life.
this regard, African Americans have continued to play a significant part
in the space program. Since
the Space Shuttle became operational, African Americans have held all of
the positions associated with a Space Shuttle Crew.
positions are Mission Specialist, Pilot and Commander.
is hoped that the brief sketch that we have researched would inspire
other African Americans to become astronauts and continue this African
American legacy and tradition.