- Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.
name =Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.
status =Killed during training
October 2, 1935
December 8, 1967
Edwards Air Force Base, California
selection =1967 USAF MOL Group
Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. (
October 2, 1935- December 8, 1967) was a United States Air Forceoffice and the first African-American astronaut. At the age of 16, he graduated in the top 10 percent from Englewood High School in Chicago, IL. At the age of 20, he graduated from Bradley Universitywith a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry. At Bradley, he distinguished himself as Cadet Commander in the Air Force ROTCand received the commission of Second Lieutenantin the Air Force Reserve Program.
At the age of 21 he had become an Air Force pilot after completing flight training at
Malden Air Force Base.
At 22, he married Barbara Cress, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Henry Cress of Chicago. By the time he was 25, he had completed an Air Force assignment as an instructor pilot in the
T-33training aircraft for the German Air Force.
In 1965, Lawrence earned a
Ph.D.in Physical Chemistryfrom Ohio State University. His dissertation related to that part of chemistry which involved the conversion of tritium rays to methane gas. [ [http://www.africanamericans.com/RobertLawrence.htm African Americans - Air Force Major Robert H. Lawrence Jr., First African American Astronaut ] ] [ [http://www.bradley.edu/las/chm/scholar/] ]
He was a senior
USAFpilot, accumulating well over 2,500 flight hours--2,000 of which were in jets. Lawrence flew many tests in the Lockheed F-104 Starfighterto investigate the gliding flight of various unpowered spacecraft returning to Earth from orbit, such as the North American X-15rocket-plane. His research was instrumental in proving the steep-descent gliding concept that would later be employed with the Space Shuttle.
In June 1967, Lawrence successfully completed the Air Force Flight Test Pilot Training School at Edwards AFB, California. That same month he was selected by the USAF as an astronaut in the Air Force's
Manned Orbiting LaboratoryProgram, thus becoming the first African-American astronaut. The MOL project would eventually lead to today's International Space Station.
Lawrence was killed on
December 8, 1967, in the crash of an F-104 Starfighterat Edwards Air Force Base, California. He was flying backseat on the mission as the instructor pilot for a flight test trainee learning the steep-descent glide technique. The pilot flying made such an approach but flared too late. The airplane struck the ground hard, the main gear failed, and the airplane caught fire. The front seat pilot of the aircraft successfully ejected upon ground impact and survived the accident, but with major injuries. By the time Lawrence ejected, the airplane had rolled onto one side and tragically, his ejection seat, with Lawrence still in it, described a low angle path and struck the ground, killing him instantly.During his brief career, Lawrence earned the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heartmedal.
After many years of relative obscurity, his achievements, dedication, and sacrifices for the nation were finally recognized on
December 8, 1997, when his name was inscribed on the Space Mirror Memorialat the Kennedy Space Centerin Florida. [http://www.cnn.com/TECH/9712/08/astronaut.ap/]
Lawrence was a member of the
Omega Psi Phifraternity.
* [http://www.spacefacts.de/bios/astronauts/english/lawrence_robert.htm Spacefacts biography of Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.]
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