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Photographer's Note

This picture was shot during the 58th Venice Biennale last year.

It is Tavares Strachan, Bahamian artist, tribute to the first African American Astronaut, Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., who died in a training accident in 1967, and who has remained largely invisible in standard histories of American space travel.

Next to the piece of art the following note by the artist:

«Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. Was an astronaut who died while instructing a flight test trainee learning the steep-descent glide technique. On December 8, 1967, he was ejected out of the back seat horizontally and died on impact. It was 11 years before another African-American was chosen to undergo astronaut training. Mrs. Lawrence apparently received many hateful letters after his death saying things like “glad he was dead because now there would be no coons on the moon.”»


Because of his untimely death and the relative secrecy surrounding the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, Lawrence's name remained largely unknown for many years. A concerted effort during the 1990’s to overcome bureaucratic barriers over the definition of an astronaut resulted in Lawrence receiving proper if belated recognition.


According to the NASA official website:

In September 1997, in tribute to his outstanding accomplishments as an American space pioneer, the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis carried his MOL mission patch into orbit during the STS-86 mission. The flown patch was presented to his widow. On December 8, 1997, the 30th anniversary of his death, Lawrence’s name was engraved in the Astronauts Memorial Foundation's Space Mirror at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which honours astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice for their space programs. Twenty years later, on the 50th anniversary of his death, NASA leaders honoured Lawrence in a ceremony attended by hundreds.
About the MOL program:

The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) was a joint project of the US Air Force (USAF) and the National Reconnaissance Office to obtain high-resolution photographic imagery of America’s Cold War adversaries. Authorized in August 1965, the MOL Program envisioned a series of mini-space stations in low polar Earth orbit, occupied by 2-man crews for 30 days at a time, launching and returning to Earth aboard modified Gemini capsules.

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