50 years ago: MOL astronaut Dr. Robert Lawrence killed in plane crash

On this day, 50 years ago, Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) astronaut Dr. Robert Lawrence died in a Starfighter during a training flight on which he was working as instructor.

Here follows an excerpt from our book "The Forgotten Astronauts" - Extended Edition" on Dr. Lawrence's career:

Dr. Robert Lawrence (2nd from the left) and three fellow MOL
astronauts posing with a model of the launch system
"In a way, most of the 17 MOL astronauts have stayed elusive and “forgotten”, which was in the nature of their strange program, classified as a matter of American national security. Exceptions are the “MOL refugees” - and Dr. Robert Lawrence, of MOL Group 3, who gained a certain notoriety and attracted more media attention than his superiors welcomed. Not because he was a graduate in chemistry, an unusual profession for a pilot and astronaut. Not because he finished high-school at the age of 16, among the top 10 percent, and got his Bachelor of Science at 20. Not because he wrote a dissertation titled “The Mechanism of the Tritium Beta-Ray Induced Exchange Reactions of Deuterium with Methane and Ethane in the Gas Phase.” But simply because of the way he looked. ...
Lawrence entered Ohio State University as a doctoral student in physical science in 1961, maintaining high grades with such courses as nuclear chemistry, photochemistry, chemical kinetics, advanced inorganic chemistry and thermodynamics. One of his professors declared him “probably the best graduate student I’ve ever advised” in 1967, “very intelligent and he worked very hard. …. He was quite a resourceful student, the kind who thinks for himself.”  Twice he applied for NASA’s astronaut groups, twice he was turned down despite his doctorate and more than 2,000 hours of accumulated flying time. Applying to the MOL project, and being accepted, was only his second-best choice.
It is claimed that his research became essential in bringing space shuttles safely back from orbit. Unfortunately, training for the MOL program included flights on the dreaded F-104  “Starfighter” planes, also known as “Widowmakers”, that have acquired an unpleasant notoriety for crashing, especially in Germany. ...

Dr. Lawrence (left) on the title of our book
There is some controversy in the community about who was the instructor and who was the instructed on this plane. Indeed, Lawrence was the instructor: He had trained German pilots on Starfighters already and, after a fatal accident related to a language problem, recommended that the language of instruction should be switched to German, a suggestion which was adopted. Major Royer was the pilot this time, training steep landing approaches of the kind typical for spaceplanes, including the Shuttle."
Answering my question, the KSC has confirmed in writing that there will be no official ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fatal crash of the first black astronaut today. They scheduled one for the first white astronaut in 2014, of course.

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