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Frederick D. Gregory Biography

Pursued Education And Adventure, Tested Cutting-edge Aircraft, First Black To Pilot American Spacecraft


Astronaut, NASA administrator

Colonel Frederick D. Gregory became the first black to pilot a space shuttle when he led the Challenger on a seven-day mission in 1985. As an astronaut he has spent more than 455 hours in outer space, and he commanded three major space missions from 1985 to 1991. Colonel Gregory was a decorated helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War and a jet test pilot prior to working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). From 2002 to 2005, Gregory held the second highest administration position, deputy administrator, with NASA. In 2005 he briefly rose to the top spot as acting administrator, becoming the first African American to lead NASA.

Possessing a relentless work ethic and exceptional versatility, Gregory has piloted a wide range of aircraft. Most unusual about his ascent to astronaut status was that he began his career as a helicopter pilot and only later made the switch to fixed-wing piloting, whereas most astronauts have begun their careers as jet pilots. "He does everything to the max," claimed Curtis M. Graves, the Deputy Director for Civil Affairs at NASA, in Ebony. "He flies aggressively [and] even hunts and fishes with unusual dedication."

An only child of two teachers, Fred Gregory grew up in an integrated neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and early learned the importance of education and hard work. He also received a healthy dose of religion from his paternal grandfather, who was a minister at a local Congregational church. Although Gregory's parents tried to protect him against demonstrations of racism, his father was a prime example of its effects. Francis A. Gregory was an electrical engineer who was limited to teaching professions due to the prejudices of the day. Gregory's uncle, Charles Richard Drew, was a famous surgeon and pioneer in blood plasma production and preservation. Dr. Drew helped prove that there was no difference between white blood and black blood, but couldn't overcome resistance against putting the blood of one race into another.

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