Feature

91-year-old Air Force Captain becomes oldest person to fly into space

Miguel Ortiz Avatar
Dwight upon his return to Earth (Blue Origin via Instagram)

On October 13, 2021, Star Trek actor William Shatner boldly went where no one older had gone before: space. At 90 years and 205 days old, Shatner flew a sub-orbital spaceflight aboard Blue Origin NS-18. However, on May 19, 2024, Shatner’s record was broken by former Air Force Captain Ed Joseph Dwight, Jr.

Dwight joined the Air Force to fly (U.S. Air Force)

On September 9, 1933, Dwight was born in Kansas City, Kansas where he attended grade school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At the age of 4, Dwight used orange crates to build himself a toy airplane. However, racial segregation stifled his dreams of flying; Dwight’s father played in segregated Negro baseball leagues. It wasn’t until he was delivering newspapers that Dwight was inspired to pursue his goal. On the cover of The Call was Dayton Ragland, a black Air Force pilot who was also from Kansas City.

Dwight reached the rank of captain (U.S. Air Force)

In 1953, Dwight enlisted in the Air Force and completed airman and cadet pre-flight training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He completed flight training at Malden Air Force Base, Missouri, commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1955, and was subsequently assigned to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona. During test pilot training, Dwight took night classes at the Arizona State University. In 1957, he graduated cum laude with an aeronautical engineering degree. Dwight completed the Air Force experimental test piloting course at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1961.

Dwight became the first honorary member of the U.S. Space Force in 2020 (U.S. Air Force)

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy directed NASA to bring a black astronaut into the program. The directive came down to the Air Force and Dwight was selected to attend the Aerospace Research Pilot School, also a Edwards. Although Dwight completed the course and proceeded to Phase II of ARPS, he was not selected for astronaut training. In 1966, Dwight resigned from the Air Force as a captain. He reported to The Guardian that “racial politics had forced him out of NASA and into the regular officer corps.”

Dwight’s crew photo (Blue Origin via Instagram)

After leaving the Air Force, Dwight worked as an engineer, in real estate, and for IBM. He also found success in the construction business which allowed him to pursue his passion for sculpting. After graduating from Bishop Ward High School, the first black male to do so, Dwight was awarded a scholarship to attend the Kansas City Art Institute. His passion for sculpting and interest in black history came together when, in 1974, Colorado’s first black lieutenant governor, George L. Brown, commissioned Dwight to create a statue for the state capitol building. This led Dwight to relocate to Denver where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpting from the University of Denver in 1977. Missing Kansas City barbecue, he also opened his own barbecue restaurant.

NS-25 lifts off (Blue Origin via Instagram)

Dwight has created over 100 memorial sculptures and over 18,000 gallery pieces, including paintings and sculptures. Notable works of his include the African American History Monument at the South Carolina State House grounds, the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial at Constitution Gardens in Washington, D.C., and the sculpture of Hank Aaron at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Georgia. A former Catholic altar boy, Dwight was also the lead sculptor on the Madonna and Child statue in the Our Mother of Africa Chapel of the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Located in Washington, D.C., it is the largest church in North America.

In addition to his successful art career, Dwight also achieved his goal of going to space. On May 19, 2024, Dwight flew aboard Blue Origin NS-25. The sub-orbital spaceflight made him the oldest person to fly into space at the age of 90 years, 8 months, and 10 days. Taking off from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site, Dwight flew at over 2,100 mph to an altitude of about 65 miles, beyond the internationally recognized border of Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. The crew of six experienced about 3 minutes of unrestrained weightlessness before strapping back in for their descent back to Earth. “I didn’t think I needed this in my life,” Dwight said after he emerged from the crew capsule. “I lied!”