50 years ago on this day: Dr. Robert Lawrence becomes the first African-American astronaut

Via "NASA History":
"On this day in 1967, Major Robert Lawrence Jr. became the first African-American to be selected to serve as an astronaut.

At that time the United States was developing the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Program; effectively a reconnaissance satellite with a crew of two. The MOL astronaut corps was selected by the Department of Defense and was almost completely separate from the NASA astronaut corps. Major Lawrence was not only an Air Force instructor pilot, but also earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Ohio State University. During the same month that he completed the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School he was selected in the third group of MOL astronauts. Tragically, Lawrence's career was cut short when the F-104 Starfighter he was flying in crashed on landing on December 8, 1967, at Edwards Air Force Base - less than 6 months after he'd been selected for the MOL program.

The MOL program was cancelled two years later - in December 1969 - and the separate Department of Defense astronaut corps ended along with MOL. Many of the MOL astronauts were accepted into the NASA astronaut corps and played a significant role in the Space Shuttle program. Had Lawrence lived, it is likely that he would have been the first African-American in space. (Dr. Guy Bluford, also a U.S. Air Force pilot, was the first African-American in space on STS-8 in August 1983.)
In 1997, at the request of the Astronaut Memorial Foundation, the Air Force reviewed Lawrence's records and designated him as an astronaut. On the 30th anniversary of his death, Lawrence's name was added to the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We commemorate this anniversary with the Extended Edition of our non-fiction book "The Forgotten Astronauts", one chapter of which is dedicated to the career and tragic fate of Dr. Lawrence and another to the controversy about his inclusion on the Space Mirror:

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