Ed Dwight, who went through training in the early days of the space program that he thought would make him NASA’s first black astronaut, fulfilled his dream of seeing Earth from space today. At 90, he was one of the six passengers on Blue Origin’s New Shepard-25 mission, the first flight with people on board since a failure in 2022. Today’s flight was successful and landed safely even though one of the three parachutes did not fully inflate.

This was Blue Origin’s 25th flight overall and the seventh with passengers since the first in 2021. They get to briefly experience weightlessness during a roughly 10 minute trip above 100 kilometers (62 miles), the internationally-recognized imaginary line that separates air and space.

Dwight was joined by Gopi Thotakura, Mason Angel, Carol Schaller, Ken Hess, and Sylvain Chiron.

The NS-25 Crew. Pictured from left to right: Gopi Thotakura, Mason Angel, Carol Schaller, Ed Dwight, Ken Hess, and Sylvain Chiron. Credit: Blue Origin

The launch, planned for 8:30 am Central Time, was delayed for about an hour for undisclosed reasons and lifted off from the company’s launch site in West Texas at 9:35 am Central Time (10:35 am Eastern) and landed 9 minutes and 53 seconds later.

Liftoff of #NS25 pic.twitter.com/81W4Pfx8xP

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) May 19, 2024

The reusable New Shepard rocket boosts the crew capsule to space, then separates and returns to land back where it started to be readied for the next flight. Once on its own,the capsule continues to ascend briefly then returns to land under parachutes in the West Texas desert. The NS-25 crew capsule reached an altitude of 106 km (347,464 feet) Above Ground Level (AGL) or 107 km (351,111 feet) Mean Sea Level (MSL).

Key stats from today’s mission:

The Crew Capsule reached an apogee of 347,464 ft AGL / 351,111 ft MSL (106 km AGL / 107 km MSL)

The booster reached an apogee of 347,105 ft AGL / 350,752 ft MSL (106 km AGL / 107 km MSL)

Official launch time was 9:35:09 AM CDT / 14:35:09 UTC.…

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) May 19, 2024

One of the three parachutes did not fully inflate on the way down, however. The system is designed to land safely even if there are only two and the passengers are fine. Blue Origin hasn’t made a statement about that yet, but it’s likely they’ll want to fully investigate what happened before flying people again.

One of the three parachutes on Blue Origin’s NS-25 flight did not fully inflate. Screengrab.

This was the first crewed flight of New Shepard since August 2022 because a launch in September 2022 failed. No one was aboard that flight, only experiments, but it was 15 months before Blue Origin launched the rocket again. That flight, in December 2023, also had only experiments on board and was successful, paving the way for the resumption of passenger flights.

In April, Blue Origin revealed the names of the six passengers who would fly this mission including Dwight. Like the “Mercury 13” women who went through rigorous medical testing in the early 1960s believing they were under consideration to join NASA’s astronaut corps but were not, Dwight, an Air Force pilot, thought he would be the first black astronaut. He went through training and was one of 26 people recommended by the Air Force, but was not selected.

NASA’s astronaut corps consisted only of white males until 1978.

The Air Force had its own Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program in the mid-late 1960s and selected Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. for that astronaut program. He is sometimes cited as the first African American astronaut although he died in the crash of an F-104 at Edwards Air Force Base in 1967 before making a spaceflight. The MOL program was cancelled in 1969 and some of the MOL astronauts transferred to NASA. All were white males.

The first U.S. black astronaut to make a spaceflight was NASA’s Guion “Guy” Bluford in 1983 on the eighth space shuttle mission, STS-8. Cuba’s Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez was the world’s first astronaut of African heritage, visiting the Soviet space station Salyut 6 in 1980.

Dwight’s story has been told in publications like Smithsonian Magazine and the National Geographic documentary The Space Race. In a February 2024 interview with ABC News’ Byron Pitts about the documentary, Dwight agreed with the characterization that he is one of the “Hidden Figures” of the space program. That’s a reference to the book and movie about African American women mathematicians working at NASA in the early days of the space program whose contributions were overlooked until now.

Dwight became a sculptor and says he’s philosophical about the experience, convinced he served a purpose by starting a conversation about black astronauts.

Today, at 90, he finally got his chance to cross the threshold into space. After landing, he enthused that he was “ecstatic,” calling it a “life changing experience” that “everybody needs to do.”

“I didn’t think I needed it in my life,” but it completes something he started but didn’t finish all those years ago. “I had to sublimate it and make it go away and say well, I didn’t need that anyway. But I did.”

Ed Dwight exiting the New Shepard-25 capsule, May 19, 2024. Screengrab.

Dwight holds the record as the oldest person to fly to space. Born on September 9, 1933 in Kansas City, KS, he’s 90 years and more than 8 months. Actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series, held the record until now. He was 90 years and not quite 7 months when he made his flight in October 2021.

Dwight isn’t the first historical figure to finally get to fly to space on New Shepard. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk — one of the Mercury 13 — to join him on the first New Shepard passenger flight in 2021. She was 82.

Blue Origin doesn’t disclose how much it costs to ride on New Shepard.  Space for Humanity, a non-profit that seeks to democratize space, is sponsoring Dwight’s flight along with the Jaison and Jamie Robinson Foundation. Jaison Robinson flew on NS-21 in June 2022.

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