NASA and Bradley Remember Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.

Bradley alumnus Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. ’56 was recently honored during this year’s NASA Day of Remembrance. Hailed as the first Black American astronaut, Lawrence and his fellow fallen astronauts are brought to light as part of a yearly tradition of thoughtfulness toward their work, impact and loss.

The ceremony took place at the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island, Florida. Attendees were given flowers to pay their respects, commemorative wreaths were laid and colors were presented. 

“While it’s a solemn day, it’s a day of reflection,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video released by the organization. “It’s a day to honor their ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of discovery – To honor adventurers who inspired generations of future explorers.”

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. graduated from Bradley University in 1956 with a degree in chemistry. In December of 1967, Major Lawrence was killed while training another pilot in a Lockheed F-104 jet at Edwards Air Force Base. He was 32 years old and had logged over 2,500 flight hours.

The year of his death, Bradley University established The Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. Memorial Scholarship. Since 1988, Bradley has also honored his legacy with the Robert H. Lawrence endowed Lectureship. In 1989, the Lawrence Conference Room was dedicated in Bradley's Olin Hall.

When Lawrence first joined the Manned Orbiting Laboratory and became the first Black American astronaut, he cautioned against implications that it meant something special for race relations at the time. “It’s just a part of the natural progression,” Lawrence said in a 1967 issue of Jet magazine. “And for some of us, it may even be too slow.”

When asked why he applied for the MOL in the first place, Lawrence said “I consider myself doing what I can for society.”

– Jenevieve Rowley-Davis