Lost history: Years before the moon landing, a black man trained to be an astronaut, but he got his chance

HOUSTON – In 1962, Edward Dwight Jr., a U.S. Air Force pilot, was the first African American to be trained as an astronaut — something that garnered international media attention. The year before, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first person in outer space and the U.S. was in the thick of the Space Race and the Cold War.

But Dwight never made it outside the earth’s atmosphere.

His superiors discouraged it because the program was anything but diverse.

“They said that ‘it will be the end of your Air Force career if you decide to do this because as a black man, you will never make it into space because of the politics associated with it,’” Dwight said.

He said racial prejudice and politics were what kept him from ever going into space.

Dwight’s story has now become a part of a documentary called “Black in Space - Breaking the Color Barrier."

“I literally looked across the globe for archival elements,” he said.

Laurens Grant directed and produced the hour-long documentary that weaves the Civil Rights movement with the Cold War and the Space Race.

“I really wanted to hopefully immerse the viewer in what it was like at that time. What were the stakes? What was this race like? Why was this such a key fascinating tense moment," Dwight said.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins became the first men to land and walk on the moon. It wasn’t until 1983 that Guion Stewart Bluford Jr. became the first African American man in space. It took almost a decade more for the first black woman, Mae Carol Jemison, to reach outer space in 1992.

Grant hopes the film inspires a new generation to reach for the stars.

“We need you. We need your brainpower. It’s time for you to charge those next waters,” she said.