Edward Dwight points to space at last

Edward Dwight is going to space, finally.

In the coming weeks, as conditions permit, Mr. Dwight is part of a six-person crew that will head beyond Earth’s orbit on the latest mission of Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos. Blue Origins’ seventh human flight will carry a wide variety of adventurers, including a venture capitalist, a craft beer entrepreneur from France, a retired accountant who doctors say is going blind, and Mr. Dwight, a retired Air Force captain who 60 years ago was chosen, and then passed over, to be the first black man to orbit the Earth.

Mr. Dwight ended up in the astronaut training program at Edwards Air Force Base in California in the early 1960s under Chuck Yeager. (In 1947 General Yeager became the first test pilot to break the sound barrier; he died in 2020.) Mr. Dwight was a charismatic and handsome test pilot, a public relations dream for an administration seeking to lead on civil rights. President Kennedy was supportive, but General Yeager was unimpressed; according to a well-documented story, General Yeager described Mr. Dwight as an average pilot who had been placed on the A-list for political reasons. Mr. Dwight had a different account, recalling General Yeager as a racist who wanted him removed. His height of 5 feet 4 inches was also a disadvantage, Mr. Dwight.

After the murder of Mr. Kennedy in 1963, Mr. Dwight was not selected to go into space. The aspiring astronaut left the Air Force in 1966 and went on to other successes, including as a restaurateur and real estate developer in Colorado, and eventually as a celebrated sculptor of prominent figures in black history.

In conversations that lasted several months, Mr. Dwight spoke to The New York Times about his impending space flight. Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

How do you feel about going to space?

It is the culmination of a long life of events. I thought this would be a nice end to a fascinating story about everything I’ve been through and my reaction to adverse conditions.

Everything I’ve done has been an uphill battle: joining the military and being an Air Force pilot, being chosen by the President of the United States to be the first black astronaut, and facing all kinds of obstacles over the years that I was in that program. But I was doing well, and so they were like, Oh my God, these guys were doing things, and my Blackness and my shortness meant nothing.

Then after I got out of the Air Force, I came to Colorado and became a big businessman and then started an art career at 45. My whole life has been about getting things done. This is the culmination.

What is your predominant emotion now anger? How lucky have you been? Or something else?

I’m not angry and I’m not lucky; none of these things are in my head. When you get angry, your brain stops working. I couldn’t even think of getting angry or disappointed about anything; This is my psychological makeup, I guess. When I encountered people who might have caused me a setback, I rationalized: Why did they feel that way?

Chuck Yeager was taught as a child that black people were ignorant and stupid and couldn’t do anything. He and I had conversations about it and so, no, I didn’t have any anger towards him. People are a product of their background, and there was nothing I could do to change their attitude.

All I could do was show Yeager that I could do anything that was expected of me and transcend. There was no way he could kick me out or get rid of me.

Why would you want to get kicked out?

We had these conversations, and this guy pulled out a piece of paper that had a folded piece of yellow, lined paper that had all these names on it and he said, Captain Dwight, I’ve got 100 and 50 white guys on this list, and all these guys White people are more qualified than you to be a test pilot.

And I’d say, so you’re telling me that all these white people are superior? Every street in Edwards is named after a dead test pilot, and all those guys are white and dead. They must have made mistakes somewhere along the line to have a street named after them. Don’t come at me with this stuff about how smart, witty, brilliant, and capable white people are compared to black people.

There were 17 people in my class and I finished seventh. I had to remind him.

You have faced numerous obstacles to reach space.

The power brokers weren’t going to give the last frontier to a black person or a woman.

So now, a guy who didn’t get to fly into space when he was supposed to, is in his 90s, at the end of his career. There are people who consider it justice. But I don’t think so. It seems too late for justice. My philosophy is that everything has a time and a place. This is a natural occurrence that should have happened at some point.

What do you think you’ll see when you’re up there?

During my flight test days, I went high enough to see the curvature of the earth, the whole of the earth, to look at the earth as a big ball. But I’m curious. I was lying in the capsule and you have this big panoramic window. I’m definitely putting this in my gee-whiz file.

Want to add something?

America is the light that guides the world. Anyone thinking of running for national office should make at least three orbits around the Earth as a prerequisite. They should look down at how precious it is and how sacred it is and how fragile it is.

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Image Source : www.nytimes.com

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