Nov 8, 2023 - News

Nat Geo documentary "The Space Race" spotlights Ed Dwight and the first Black astronauts

Ed Dwight speaks onstage during a National Geographic screening event in June. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for National Geographic

A National Geographic documentary connecting the stories of Black astronauts who broke social barriers to reach new heights starts with Denverite Ed Dwight.

What to know: "The Space Race" — which is showing Thursday at the Denver Film Festival — traces back to the early 1960s, when Dwight, a U.S. Air Force pilot, was chosen by the Kennedy administration to join the space program and almost became the nation's first Black astronaut.

  • Kennedy's nomination was a hyper-political one at the time, and Dwight faced "arrows" and discrimination by his peers and superiors at every step, he tells Axios Denver.
  • After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Dwight was inexplicably stonewalled — and it wouldn't be until 20 years later that the country saw its first Black astronaut.

What they're saying: "I was never bothered about not going into space," Dwight says. "It turns out that I served my purpose. And my purpose was to start a conversation."

Ed Dwight looks over a model of the Titan III-X-20 Dyna-Soar combination during a visit to Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C., in November 1963. Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Zoom in: In the film, directors Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Lisa Cortés explore the contributions that trailblazing Black pilots, scientists and engineers made to NASA while standing on Dwight's shoulders.

  • "The Space Race" is "a story of justice" and "not giving up," Dwight says.

Of note: For the past 40-plus years, Dwight has become a prolific artist, designing more than 130 memorials all over the world that "tell the story of Black history," he says, including a statue of Martin Luther King Jr., in Denver's City Park.

What's next: At 90 years old, he tells us he remains determined to make it to the Moon and is training in Texas with Blue Origin, the company working with NASA to take astronauts there before the end of the decade.


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