Military & Veterans Life

TopVet: Air Force Captain Ed Joseph Dwight

Air Force Captain Edward Dwight

90-year old retired Air Force Captain Ed Joseph Dwight held his fists in the air sporting a smile from ear to ear last week as he exited rocket-capsule combo New Shepard. He became the oldest person to reach space, 63 years after President John F. Kennedy selected him, a former test pilot, as a candidate to be the first Black astronaut in 1961.

“Long time coming!” the Kansas City native exclaimed as he exited the flight.

Dwight was one of six passengers aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin NS-18 rocket that took flight on May 19, 2024 at 9:36 a.m. CST from the launch site in West Texas. During the 10-minute mission, it reached a speed of 2,000 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 65.7 miles, giving the passengers about three minutes of unrestrained weightlessness. Dwight called it a life changing experience. 

“I didn’t know I needed this in my life, but now I need it in my life. It’s like getting a taste of honey. I want a whole jar of that. I want to go into orbit. I want to go around the Earth and see the whole Earth. That’s what I want to do now.”

Born September 9, 1933, Dwight was raised in a world of racial segregation where his father played for Negro baseball teams, as they were called at the time. As a young man, he saw a newspaper photo of a Black pilot and realized his dream.

“Oh my God, they’re letting Black people fly,” he thought. “I went straight to the recruitment office and said, ‘I want to fly.’ 

The NS-25 Crew.

The NS-25 Crew. Pictured from left to right: Gopi Thotakura, Mason Angel, Carol Schaller, Ed Dwight, Ken Hess, and Sylvain Chiron. (Photo: Blue Origin)

At 20 years old, he enlisted in the Air Force and completed airman and cadet pre-flight training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He completed flight training at Malden Air Force Base, Missouri, commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1955, and was subsequently assigned to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona. During test pilot training, Dwight took night classes at Arizona State University and two years later, he graduated cum laude with an aeronautical engineering degree. He completed the Air Force experimental test piloting course at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1961.

That same year, President John F. Kennedy requested NASA to hire the first black astronaut, and Dwight was selected to attend the Aerospace Research Pilot School. 

“I had to be talked into it,” he told the Washington Post. “I wasn’t interested. I had a great military career going.” Dwight was ultimately not selected for astronaut training after Kennedy’s death. He reported to The Guardian that “racial politics had forced him out of NASA and into the regular officer corps.”

After resigning from the Air Force in 1966, Dwight worked as an engineer and turned to his love of sculpture, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpting from the University of Denver in 1977. He has created over 100 memorial sculptures and over 18,000 gallery pieces, including paintings and sculptures sharing black history across the country.

This month, Dwight became the 21st Black American astronaut to fly into space.

“It was fantastic, and I’m glad I did it,” he said.

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