Reaching for the stars NatGeo’s ‘The Space Race’ spotlights unsung heroes

  An uplifting documentary “The Space Race” takes you out of this world and introduces you to unsung space age pioneers. Premiering February 12 on National Geographic, the film will also stream the next day on Disney+ and Hulu.

Victor Glover, Ed Dwight, Leland Melvin

  “The Space Race: The Untold Story of the First Black Astronauts” weaves together the stories of a small but mighty group of astronauts seeking to break the bonds of social injustice and reach for the stars. These trailblazers forever redefined what “The Right Stuff” looks like, giving us new heroes to celebrate.

  The film puts the spotlight on NASA legends past and present, including Ed Dwight, who had a successful military career before he was recruited to an Air Force training program in 1961 from which NASA selected early astronauts.

  His initial response to the invitation? “When I was approached, I thought all of these astronaut guys were a bunch of nuts,” Dwight recalled during the current Televisions Critics Association winter 2024 press tour. At 90 years, Dwight was excited to talk about his experiences and give the TCA journalists a chance to explore the history he lived through.

  Dwight was an officer and had a successful military career. “I was on a wing staff, flying five different airplanes, which is a pilot’s dream. I had a military future that was incredibly promising. When I got this letter, November 4, 1961, proposing this idea of being the first Negro astronaut, I thought it was a joke. I took it to my leaders and my peers, and said, ‘Is this for real?’ And it turns out that it was for real.”

 He didn’t have any interest in entering the space program because he thought he’d never fit into “the club.” “I didn’t answer until I told my mom who said, ‘You gotta do this.’ She told me things about helping the condition of the race and all the wonderful things that can happen, worthy things. So, I turned myself in within four days of receiving, which is never done in the military.”

  The President of the United States erased all the red tape and put Dwight right in the middle of this club, and this club was very unhappy because it was all about politics. President Kennedy wanted to do this to help equalize the racial injustice that America was experiencing. Dwight’s treatment was miserable, especially coming from Colonel Yeager who was running the program. He kept telling Dwight to give up his seat. “We had a lot of confrontations and he (Yeager) never gave up.” Dwight never gave up either. 

  “Kennedy needed the Black vote. That’s how the whole thing started.  He went to the Black leadership and asked them, ‘What do I need to do to get the Black vote?’  And Dr. King was there, Roy Wilkins, all the big guys were there, meeting at Harry Belafonte’s house. Whitney Young, the head of the Urban League, was in the meeting. Whitney came up with this idea that, ‘hey, you know, we don’t have any Black scientists engineers, that’s what we need.’”

  The mission was explained to Dwight that the President wanted to find an African American astronaut to start that ball rolling. NASA fought it but Dwight trained and took his place among the best of the best. Sadly, when President Kennedy died so did the dreams for the Black astronauts of that era. “I would have gone (into space) had the President lived,” Dwight said and emphasized that he is grateful to have been a part of that program.  “My role in this was to start the conversation.”

  There’s much more fascinating untold history in the riveting documentary from director Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Lisa Cortés; produced by Aly Parker, Mark Monroe, Lisa Cortés, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Keero Birla, and Alexandra Bowen. The film’s executive producers include Carolyn Bernstein, Leland Melvin, Tony Rosenthal, and Frank Marshal.

  Also with Ed Dwight on the TCA interview panel, at the Langham Huntington Hotel in the heart of Pasadena, CA, were film participants Leland Melvin, a former NASA Astronaut, and Victor Glover, who will be the first Black astronaut to fly around the moon on NASA’s upcoming Artemis II mission.  Melvin and Glover are two Black men who expressed that the legacy of Ed Dwight helped make their journeys into space a reality.

  Tune in “The Space Race,” February 12, 2024 on National Geographic, streaming next day on Disney+ and Hulu.


Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.