Dr. Bernard Harris Jr.: The First African-American to Perform a Spacewalk
Dr. Bernard Harris Jr.’s career path is a story of persistence and hard work. He overcame rejection to become an astronaut, CEO, founder, and author- not to mention, the first African-American to walk in space.
Photo courtesy of Click2Houston.
Early Life and Education
Growing up, Harris was always determined. Born in Texas and growing up on the Navajo reservations of Arizona and New Mexico, he was inspired by the first moon landing in 1969 to go to space himself.
After high school, he attended the University of Houston and Texas Tech to become a medical doctor, officially graduating in 1982.
Dr. Bernard Harris Jr., Astronaut
Two years after graduating from medical school, Harris began his journey at NASA. He trained as a flight surgeon until he was selected to join the Astronaut Training Program in 1990 after applying twice, traveling to space for the first time in 1991.
On his second mission in 1995, he became the first African American to walk in space.
Over the next 19 years, he logged more than 438 hours and traveled over 7.2 million miles in space, conducting research on musculoskeletal physiology and clinical investigations of space adaptation, as well as developing in-flight medical devices.
Dr. Berndard Harris Jr. Today
After NASA, Harris went into business, earning an MBA from the University of Houston and a Master’s degree in Medical Science from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Currently, he is the CEO of a venture capital firm, Vesalius Ventures.
He founded his nonprofit in 1998, The Harris Foundation. Dedicated to serving socially and economically disadvantaged communities, they hope to enhance the quality of education available (specifically supporting STEM/STEAM programs), improve health through specific strategies, and create and sustain wealth within those communities through education.
Awards and Recognitions
Harris has received many well-deserved awards, including the Challenger Award, the Horatio Alger Award, a NASA Award of Merit, and the NASA Space Flight Medal, on top of receiving multiple honorary doctorate degrees. In 2006, a school was named in his honor, called The Dr. Bernard A. Harris Middle School.
Harris also sits on a variety of boards and commissions.
Today, along with running The Harris Foundation, he is a published author, private pilot, licensed scuba diver, and father.