CNN Black History Month

Trip to the stars rooted in history

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First black astronaut to walk in space sees vast importance of space exploration

February 24, 1996
Web posted: 3:35 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Kathy Nellis

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- In February 1995, Bernard Harris, Jr., made history. One of only seven black astronauts, he was the first black astronaut to walk in space.

A year later, as the U.S. celebrates Black History Month, Harris reflected on his accomplishment, and pondered the future of space exploration.

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"To be the first was great, it really was," he said. "But to me, it signifies that there would be many more behind me.

For Harris, the experience was a high point of a journey that began years ago. From the time he was eight-years-old, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut.

On the way to his dream, he reached many other personal goals -- pilot, flight surgeon, scientist, mission specialist. As Harris explained, his dream -- his trip to the stars -- had its roots in history.

"I think it's kind of ironic," he said. "When we look at history itself, you realize that astronomy -- the study of the stars -- that whole origin ... (was) being done by people from Africa. And now I get to fly amongst those same stars." (383K AIFF sound or 383K WAV sound)

Harris emphasized that people should know and understand the importance of history, especially from their own perspectives.

"If you don't know where you are and where you came from, you'll never know where you are going," he said.

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Harris said that he believes space and space technology will have a great impact on the technological, environmental and economic future of Earth. But, he added, the view from space inspires a sense of universal community that stretches well beyond Black History Month.

"I don't think there's an astronaut alive ... that doesn't come back with a great sense of humanity," he said. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound)

And that is a compelling reason to shoot for the stars.



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