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‘My Terrestrial Mission’: Black Astronaut Bernard Harris on Boosting STEM Access for Underserved Students

As a child, Bernard Harris was a self-described “geek,” thrilled by science fiction. 

In 1969, he watched with awe as Neil Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind” onto the surface of the moon. For Harris, it was also “a tremendous leap for this little kid,” he said, “this little Black kid.”

The event inspired him to pursue a career in medicine as a pathway to becoming an astronaut. He excelled in high school, college and medical school, even as controversies over desegregation disrupted many campuses in his home state of Texas.

Nearly 25 years after the NASA moon landing ignited his passion for space travel, Harris achieved his longtime goal, embarking on his first space mission in 1993 and flying over 4 million miles in space. Two years later, in 1995, he became the first Black American to walk in space, spending 6 hours in orbit outside the spacecraft.

Now he’s on a new mission — what he calls his “terrestrial mission” — to ensure that all students have access to high-quality STEM education. The retired astronaut serves as the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, which works with students and teachers across the country to advance learning in those disciplines.

Read more at The 74.