How Black Astronauts Battled Racism In Space

February 1984:  Mission specialist Ronald McNair relaxes with his saxophone during the STS 41-B mission on the Challenger shuttle. Zero gravity allows him to float around while playing his instrument.  (Photo by NASA/Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

How Black Astronauts Battled Racism In Space

‘Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier’ is streaming on the Smithsonian Channel now.

Published March 6th

Written by BET Staff

In 1983 Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. became the first African-American in space as part of the Orbiter Challenger crew. His career at NASA began in 1978 and his story, along with other space pioneers, is being documented in a revealing series on the Smithsonian Channel, Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier

RELATED: Black Excellence Trilogy: Astronauts

Produced in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Black In Space features the personal stories of several African-American pioneers of the Space Race including Edward Dwight, a U.S. Air Force pilot and early NASA contender; Guion Bluford, the first African American to go to space; Frederick Gregory, the first African American to pilot and command a NASA mission; and Ronald McNair, who tragically perished in the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Spurred by achievements of the Soviet Union and the battle for Civil Rights raging in his own backyard, President John F. Kennedy sought to make America a model for space programs around the world. The Pentagon was given the order to find a Black astronaut and get them into space. With the ‘race’ in Space Race taking on a whole new meaning, those first Black astronauts overcame a gauntlet of challenges that helped pave the way for future generations of astronauts.

“Our family had gone from slavery to space in four generations,” says Carl McNair, Ronald McNair’s brother. “And we thought that was something special.” 

Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier is directed by Emmy®winning filmmaker Laurens Grant and is available to watch on Smithsonian Channel Plus and various streaming platforms.

Photo Credit: (Photo by NASA/Space Frontiers/Getty Images)


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