Below is the second part of "African-American Explorers and Astronauts."
African-Americans have played an important part in space exploration since the 1960s. In 1967, Chicago native Robert H. Lawrence became the first African-American astronaut. Major Lawrence never got to make a trip into space, however, due to an unfortunate training accident in his Air Force jet.
The first African-American to go into space was Guion S. Bluford, Jr., a Philadelphia native. His first mission blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on August 30, 1983. His space shuttle was the first one to take off and land during the night. Bluford flew into space three other times.
On his very first trip into space in 1985, Frederick Gregory served as the pilot of the space shuttle Challenger. In 1989, Gregory was honored when he became the first African-American shuttle commander. He was the leader of the crew on the Discovery space shuttle and had to make sure everything went well on the mission.
Gregory, a native of Washington, D.C., also was named the commander on the Atlantis space shuttle in 1991.
Bernard A. Harris dreamed of being an astronaut when he was eight years old. As he grew up in Texas, he began working toward his goal. He became a pilot, flight surgeon, scientist, and mission specialist.
In February 1995, Harris became the first African-American astronaut to walk in space. At that time he was one of only seven African-American astronauts. He was the payload commander during a ten-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery when he stepped out and made his historic space walk.
About a year later, Winston E. Scott followed in Harris' gravity-free footsteps when he flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. Scott was on his first mission when he spent nearly seven hours walking in space. During this mission, the crew retrieved a satellite that had been launched from Japan ten months earlier.
Scott's next mission was in 1997 aboard the Columbia. During that flight, he suited up and walked in space two more times.
Mae Jemison knew that becoming an astronaut would mean hard work. She knew a person needed to be dedicated, brave, and have the mental toughness necessary to earn the right to wear the suit of a NASA astronaut. Jemison possessed all those qualities and more.
Jemison brought a variety of experiences to NASA when she joined in 1987. She worked as a medical doctor and had spent two-and-a-half years as a medical officer with the Peace Corps in the African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. She nourished a love for African and African-American studies, dance, and choreography.
Growing up in Chicago, Jemison was determined not to let any obstacles stop her from pursuing a career in science and technology. Jemison's efforts paid off. On September 12, 1992, she became the first African-American woman to travel into space.
During that flight aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, Jemison served as the mission specialist and helped conduct experiments in life sciences and material processing.
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