Maj. Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. made history on June 30, 1967 when he was selected as the first black person chosen for astronaut training in the country’s history.

The Chicago native grew up in Englewood on the South Side, later graduating from Bradley University with a bachelors in chemistry. He joined the Air Force at age 21. By the time he turned 30, Lawrence eared a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Ohio State University. In June 1967, Lawrence successfully completed test flight training, and on June 30, was selected by the Air Force for its Manned Orbital Laboratory Program. Although Lawrence is remembered as the nation’s first black astronaut, he never made it into space.

Lawrence was killed on December 8 of that year in a test flight crash in California. He was a backseat passenger in the training mission, flown by his instructor. Lawrence was 32 years old.

-Terry Dean