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Posted 5/15/2007 Printable Fact Sheet
Robert Lawrence
Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., Major
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Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.

United States Air Force Major Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr., was the first African American chosen by NASA to be an astronaut. He was a senior USAF pilot, accumulating well over 2,500 flight hours--2,000 of which was in jets. Major Lawrence flew many tests in the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter to investigate the gliding flight of various unpowered spacecraft returning to Earth from orbit, such as the North American X-15 rocket-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 NASA as an astronaut in the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program, thus becoming the first African American astronaut. The MOL project would eventually lead to today's International Space Station.

Major Lawrence was killed on December 8, 1967 in the crash of an F-104 at Edwards AFB. He was flying backseat on the mission as the instructor pilot for a flight test trainee learning the steep-descent glide technique. The pilot of the aircraft successfully ejected and survived the accident, but with major injuries.

During his brief career, Major Lawrence earned the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation. 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 Astronaut Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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