First black astronaut honored on 50th anniversary of death

FILE - In this June 30, 1967 file photo, Maj. Robert H. Lawrence Jr., the first black astronaut in the U.S. space program, is introduced at a news conference in El Segundo, Calif. Lawrence was part of a classified military space program in the 1960s called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, meant to spy on the Soviet Union. He died before ever flying in space when his fighter jet crashed on Dec. 8, 1967. (AP Photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — America’s first black astronaut is finally getting full honors on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Several hundred people gathered at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday to commemorate Air Force Maj. Robert Lawrence Jr.

Lawrence was part of a classified military space program in the 1960s called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, meant to spy on the Soviet Union. He died before ever flying in space when his fighter jet crashed on Dec. 8, 1967.

Astronauts at Friday’s ceremony say Lawrence would have gone on to fly NASA’s space shuttles. They say he was an inspiration to all African-American astronauts who followed him.

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