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Frederick D. Gregory - First Black To Pilot American Spacecraft

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Although he was the third black to fly into outer space, Gregory was the first to pilot an American spacecraft. He was tremendously moved by his first voyage beyond the earth's atmosphere, and for him it was a highly religious experience. According to They Had a Dream: The Story of African-American Astronauts, Gregory said, "when you're in space and you're looking down at earth and you see this perfect globe beneath you and you see the organization and non-chaos, you have to feel, as I did, that there was one great Being–one great force that made this happen." The astronaut was quoted in Ebony as saying: "From our vantage in space, we couldn't help but redefine the world, where we all are part of a whole global entity, based on the absence of political and arbitrary boundaries on planet Earth."

Following his maiden flight in outer space, Gregory served as mission control lead spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) for subsequent flights of the space shuttle. He was communicating with the crew of the shuttle Challenger during its tragic flight in January of 1986. In November of 1989, he was appointed spacecraft commander of the orbiter Discovery on its fiveday flight and both piloted and landed the spacecraft. Gregory directed deployment of the shuttle's classified Department of Defense cargo and other payloads during its 79 orbits of earth. Next, Gregory took the helm for the orbiter Atlantis in November of 1991. The Atlantis was used to deploy the Defense Support Program (DSP) missile-warning satellite, and it also conducted other military-related operations. Once this mission was completed, Gregory's total time in outer space surpassed 455 hours.

In April of 1992 Gregory became Associate Administrator in the Office of Safety and Mission Quality at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. When he retired as Air Force colonel in 1993, he had logged approximately 7,000 hours of flying time in more than 50 types of aircraft. A highly decorated pilot who has flown everything from helicopters and gliders to jet fighters and spacecraft, Colonel Frederick Gregory has made his mark as a major figure in American space travel during the space shuttle era. In 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush nominated him to be the associate administrator of NASA; the Senate confirmed his posting and he served faithfully until stepping in as acting administrator in 2005. As hearings for the permanent administrator of NASA continued, Gregory managed NASA with characteristic diligence and vision. He returned to his post as deputy administrator on April 14, 2005, when Michael Griffin was confirmed for NASA's top position. Named one of the fifty most important blacks in technology, Gregory remained committed to promoting the U.S. space program.



Phelps, J. Alfred, They Had a Dream: The Story of African-American Astronauts, Presidio Press, 1994.


Ebony, May 1990, pp. 78-82.

Jet, November 20, 1989, p. 23; July 30, 1990, p. 15; July 15, 1991, p. 26; November 29. 2004, p. 46; March 21, 2005, p. 6.

New York Times, November 25, 1991, p. A-7.

Popular Mechanics, April 2003, p. 16.

Washington Post, December 5, 1991, p. A-22; April 29, 1992, p. A-21.


NASA, www.nasa.gov (April 28, 2005).

—Ed Decker and Sara Pendergast

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