America’s First Black Astronauts: 15 People Who Paved the Way


Col. Benjamin Alvin Drew Jr. (U.S. Air Force, Retired)

Drew was born Nov. 5, 1962, in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Gonzaga College High School in 1980. He is a retired Air Force colonel with dual degrees in astronautical engineering and physics from the Air Force Academy, plus a master’s in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle University. Drew was selected as a mission specialist by NASA in July 2000 and attended a master’s degree program at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air War College. He has piloted 30 different aircraft and logged three shuttle missions.



Robert Lee Satcher Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

Satcher was born Sept. 22, 1965, in Hampton, Virginia. He became the first orthopedic surgeon in space during STS-12. Doctors and scientists are likely candidates for astronaut training. Satcher is both. He has a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT and an M.D. from Harvard University. He has performed two spacewalks.

Leland D. Melvin (NFL Draft, 1986)

Melvin, born Feb. 15, 1964, in Lynchburg, Virginia, graduated from Heritage High School in 1982. Melvin holds a chemical engineering degree from the University of Richmond and a master’s in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia. He was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 NFL draft and was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1998. Leland, who flew two shuttle missions, is the associate administrator for education at NASA.