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National Geographic documentary: The Space Race reveals the stories of the first black pilots, engineers and scientists who became astronauts

Houston, Texas — To the Moon and beyond: this has been the goal of NASA and its world-renowned space crews for decades. Black astronauts, who are an integral part of this mission, are chronicled in the new National Geographic documentary “The Space Race.”

ABC13 anchor Erica Simon was at Space Center Houston in January when the film screened and spoke with past and present stars who made history in orbit amid racial injustice here on Earth .

“I could have gone to the Moon, but they weren’t going to let that happen,” Ed Dwight said. He’s only 5 feet 4 inches tall, but in the early 1960s, Dwight had a huge presence, which caught the attention of the White House.

As a decorated pilot and Air Force officer, he was chosen by President John F. Kennedy to make history.

“When it came to this idea of ​​selection, how do you find a black astronaut? So you find someone who has accomplished and done the job. They preferred me to be a little taller and a little blacker,” he said. Dwight explained.

Despite being neither of those things, Dwight became the nation’s first black American astronaut candidate. Kennedy was then assassinated and Dwight missed his moment. This journey is chronicled in the new National Geographic film, “The Space Race.”

“When I first saw it, I was blown away,” Dwight said.

Emmy Award-winning directors Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Lisa Cortes spent several years researching and spotlighting not only Dwight, but also early black pilots, scientists and engineers like Ron McNair, who tragically died in the the Challenger explosion in 1986, and Guion Bluford, who became the first black American to go into space.

“We’ve had black astronauts in the 1950s, in the 1960s, in the 1970s and today. I fear that without these stories, especially by National Geographic, one of the most trusted iconic brands in the world , without these stories, these stories may not be told,” said Karen Greenfield, vice president of inclusive content and engagement for National Geographic.

Leland Melvin followed in the footsteps of the pioneers. He served aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis and is executive director of this film.

“I hope all the kids who see this movie believe in their possible mission. They can be anything,” Melvin said with a smile.

Now, all eyes are on Victor Glover, a US Navy captain and fighter pilot, who will soon be the first Black American to travel to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis II mission.

He is also part of the movie “The Space Race” and showed up to the screening at Space Center Houston to support Dwight.

“It’s really special to be one of his mentees, but also to be able to experience something that he fought for and that the system prevented him from doing. He made things happen so that I could be here today,” Glover said. .

Glover says he is focused on his historic flight and is not nervous.

“I’m working very hard so that we can say that we did everything we could to succeed in this mission, and because of that, I’m not nervous. I don’t have time to be nervous,” he said. Glover said.

As the United States struggled to become a more perfect union, NASA saw an opportunity to level the playing field. Racism and barriers are not an integral part of our history, but it is a history that those who built “The Space Race” want people to know about it.

“I hope the audience leaves the theater having learned something else about the world they live in,” Hurtado de Mendoza said.

Dwight walked so Melvin, Glover and many others could fly. The veteran turned renowned sculptor considers it an honor to start the conversation decades ago and hopes his journey and this film will motivate the next generation.

“All you have to do is prepare for it, and you can do anything you aspire to. But you have to do your homework and you have to be well prepared for it. You can’t be nervous about it. subject. You have to be strong about it, and you have to stay at it,” Dwight said.

The network premiere of “The Space Race” is Monday on National Geographic. It will be available to stream on Hulu and Disney+ on Tuesday.

Disney is the parent company of National Geographic and this station.

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