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Ed Dwight, 90, and 5 others blast off into space aboard Blue Origin rocket: NPR

Ed Dwight poses for a portrait to promote the National Geographic documentary film “The Space Race” at the Winter Television Critics Association press tour Thursday in February.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP


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Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP


Ed Dwight poses for a portrait to promote the National Geographic documentary film “The Space Race” at the Winter Television Critics Association press tour Thursday in February.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Ed Dwight, the man who nearly became America’s first black astronaut six decades ago, made his first trip to space on Sunday at age 90 with five teammates aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

The seamless liftoff from a West Texas launch site marked the first passenger flight in nearly two years for the commercial space company led by billionaire Jeff Bezos. The roughly 10-minute suborbital flight put Dwight in the history books as the oldest person to ever reach space. He beat Star Trek actor William Shatner for this honor for just a few months. Shatner was a few months younger when he boarded a New Shepard rocket in 2021.

Dwight shared the capsule with Mason Angel, a venture capitalist; Sylvain Chiron, founder of a French craft brewery; entrepreneur Kenneth Hess; aviator Gopi Thotakura and Carol Schaller, retired accountant.

The rocket reached more than 347,000 feet, crossing the 330,000-foot-high Kármán Line, the imaginary line that denotes the edge of space. They experienced a few brief moments of weightlessness.

Shortly after, the New Shepard booster landed in a cloud of dust near the launch site. The crew capsule landed under two of its three parachutes, with one of the redundant parachutes failing to fully deploy.

Emerging from the pod, a beaming Dwight raised two fists in the air in triumph.

“Fantastic! A life-changing experience. Everyone has to do this!” he remarked.

“I didn’t know I needed it in my life, but now I need it in my life,” he said.

He said the separation of the rocket and capsule was “more dynamic” than he expected.

In the 1960s, Dwight, an Air Force captain, was quickly selected for space flight after then-President John F. Kennedy requested a black astronaut. Despite graduating in the top half of a test pilot school, Dwight was later passed over for selection as an astronaut, a story he detailed in his autobiography, Flying the Wings of a Dream: The Untold Story of America’s First Black Astronaut Candidate.

After leaving the Air Force, Dwight became a famous sculptor, specializing in creating portraits of African American historical figures.

Dwight, speaking to NPR last month, said he was surprised to get a call from Blue Origin to get on the flight. “They called me and asked if I was interested. And of course, I said yes,” he said.

In another conversation with NPR in 2022, Dwight said he had never faced such intense competition at the Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, where he s He trained as a test pilot in the early 1960s.

“They would blow out your eardrums to see how long it would take you to recover,” Dwight recalled. “These are the kind of fascinating things they did to your body to see how far they could stretch it before it broke.”

The cost of Dwight’s ticket is shared between Blue Origin, Space for Humanity and the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Family Foundation. (Jaison Robinson, who flew on a previous Blue Origin flight, is a member of the NPR Foundation board of directors.)

The first crewed New Shepard flight launched in July 2020 and included Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, pilot Wally Funk, and Dutch citizen Oliver Daemen, 18, who was, at the time of launch, the youngest person to have never participated in this flight. space.

NPR News

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