Ed Dwight’s Passion for Flight and Art

In 1963, Air Force pilot Ed Dwight hoped to become the first African American in space.  Dwight was not chosen, however, to be one of the first U.S. astronauts. But in May, 2024, Dwight rocketed into the record books as the oldest person to travel to space.  

Love of Flight 

Ed Dwight grew up in Kansas in the 1930s. One of his childhood passions was flight. He flew in a small plane as a child. His desire to fly planes continued into adulthood. Dwight discovered that, despite segregation in many parts of American life, African Americans could pilot planes in the military. He enlisted in the Air Force. He served as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California. 

Pursuit of Being an Astronaut 

astronaut space suit
astronaut space suit

In the early 1960s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) assembled astronaut training classes for the Gemini and Apollo space missions. Dwight was one of the qualified Air Force candidates recommended for the program. The civil rights movement was putting pressure on the government to address social and political inequality for African Americans. The Kennedy administration supported Dwight’s inclusion in these training programs.  

Dwight was disappointed when he was not selected for the program.  He believes he was denied entrance to the program because of racial discrimination. The Air Force stationed him in Germany and Canada before moving him to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He left the Air Force in 1966. 

A Passion for Art 

Following his Air Force service, Dwight worked at several jobs and started a construction company. He also pursued his lifelong passion of art. He studied sculpture at the University of Denver, earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1977.  

Many of Dwight’s bronze sculptures depict African American civil rights leaders, jazz musicians, and sports athletes. His sculpture of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald is part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. Six of his jazz sculptures–Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Benny Goodman – are included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Other sculptures created by Dwight include several Underground Railroad memorials, a Tulsa sculpture memorializing the Greenwood district bombing, and numerous art pieces featuring civil rights leaders.  

Dwight’s Space Opportunity 

It wasn’t until 1983 that Guion Bluford became the first African American to travel to space on the eighth Space Shuttle Challenger mission. Since NASA’s shuttle program ended in 2011, space flight has become more commercialized, with private companies investing in space travel. NASA and other governmental agencies work together with private space companies such as Blue Origin, Boeing Starliner, and Space X on some projects. Some space flights are strictly private commercial projects, such as space tourism.  

On May 19, 2024, at ninety years old, Ed Dwight traveled on Blue Origin’s seventh spaceflight with several other people onboard. He set the record for the oldest person to travel to space, breaking the record held since 2021 by actor William Shatner. Dwight and his fellow space tourists experienced weightlessness for several minutes of the ten-minute flight. 

What Do You Think? Would you travel to space as a tourist if you had the opportunity? Explain your answer.