US’s first black spaceman, Air Force Major Robert Lawrence Jr., ultimately got full honours Friday on the 50th anniversary of his death. Lawrence was part of a coordinated military space program in the 1960s named the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, intended to spy on the Soviet Union. He died when his F-104 Starfighter collapsed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was just 32 at that time. Various hundred people assembled at Kennedy Space Center to memorialize Lawrence, who most surely would have gone on to travel in space had he not died in a plane crash on Dec. 8, 1967.
The crowd involved NASA dignitaries, scientists, fellow Omega Psi Phi organization members, schoolchildren, and siblings of Lawrence and other spacewalkers who have died in the line of duty. Cosmonauts at Friday’s two-hour commemoration stated that he motivated all the African-American astronauts who followed him. Similar to Lawrence, Robert Crippen was also a part of the Air Force’s mission. It was cancelled in 1969 without a single manned spaceflight, prompting Crippen and other astronauts to move on to NASA. Crippen was the first pilot of the space shuttle flight in 1981.
Crippen continued “He had a great destiny ahead of him if he had not been lost 50 years ago now.”
Lawrence flagged the way for Guy Bluford, who became the first African-American astronaut in 1983, Dr Mae Jemison, the first African-American lady in space in 1992, and Charles Bolden Jr., a space shuttle officer who became NASA’s first black administrator in 2009. Next year, the ISS is receiving its first African-American resident: NASA spaceman Jeanette Epps.
In commendation to Lawrence, a jazz lover, Scott and his jazz group entertained the people with “Fly Me to the Moon” and different tunes. Lawrence’s sister, Barbara, a retired educator, stated he recognised himself the luckiest man in the world for being capable of combining the two things he loved most: chemistry and flying.
Lawrence’s name was engraved on the Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Space Mirror at Kennedy for the 30th ceremony of his death in 1997, following a long bureaucratic effort. It took years for the Air Force to recognise Lawrence as an astronaut, given he’d never flown as high as the 1960s required the height of 50 miles.
The Space Mirror Memorial represents the names of two other African-Americans one is Ronald McNair, who died on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, and another one is Michael Anderson, who died on shuttle Columbia in 2003.