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Celebrating Black History

The Power to Unite: An Astronaut’s Vision

victor glover-astronaut-ncaa-black astronaut-overview effect
victor glover-astronaut-ncaa-black astronaut-overview effect
Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The first Black astronaut to serve a long duration mission aboard the International Space Station offers a message for humanity.

An NCAA Division I wrestler and football player in college, Victor Glover graduated with several advanced degrees and was a test pilot in the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet, and EA‐18G Growler for the Navy.

But Glover wasn’t ready to rest on his laurels. “I saw a shuttle launch when I was about ten years old,” said Glover, “and I said, man, I want to drive that thing.” It was a sentiment that would lead him to space — and to a vision of a more united, spacefaring human race.

Becoming an astronaut

Glover applied to the Astronaut Candidate Program and was accepted in 2013. Once candidates complete about two years of training, they graduate and become eligible for assignment to a spaceflight mission. It typically takes several years before new astronauts get assigned, during which time they work in a variety of technical roles to support NASA’s active human spaceflight programs.

Astronauts have to learn to fly both in space and in the atmosphere, they have to learn the systems on the International Space Station (ISS) in both English and Russian, and they must master complex robotics systems.

“We also have to learn maybe the most spacey thing of all — the spacewalk,” Glover noted.

Photo by NASA/Kim Shiflett.

In 2020 Glover was part of a crew on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and completed a long duration mission aboard the ISS, becoming the first Black astronaut to do so.

The overview effect

Being in space had a profound effect on Glover. “I joke with folks and say, ‘it was a great time to leave the earth’,” he said. “The COVID pandemic was at its height. You also had these incidents, like the murder of George Floyd. For me, the one that was personal was Ahmaud Arbery. I was a Black man in America. All of the things that happened to Ahmaud Arbery could have happened to me.”

Glover referenced the overview effect, a cognitive shift that happens to many astronauts when they view the Earth from space. Glover said it made him realize space could be a unifying force for humanity.  “You come back to sea level, and then you have a choice,” he explained. “Are you going to try to live your life a little differently? Are you going to really choose to be a member of this community of Earth?”

The path to space

Glover wants the next generation of astronauts to know the path is there. “The assumption is that the standard astronaut is a test pilot, a military male,” he explained, “and that’s not true.”

Glover believes strongly that team sports lay a good foundation for astronauts from all backgrounds. “The reason that I look for athletes or athleticism in a resume is because if you win your game, your competition, your match on Friday, what do you do Monday? Practice,” he noted. “If you lose on Friday, what do you do Monday? Practice. That’s how you become the best you can be. It is a challenging, unforgiving business. One of the myths about astronauts is that they must be smart. I think the reason people call them smart is because they work hard.”

For aspiring astronauts, Glover offered three specific pieces of advice: “First, be resilient. That means to grow through the tough times, don’t just go through them. Second, be a lifelong learner — in the classroom, out of the classroom, formal education, informal education. Third, be a good teammate. Look to your left and your right and respect the people around you.”

“Being an astronaut is an honor and a privilege,” Glover added. “It’s not a marathon or sprint — it’s a relay race. I’m focusing most on handing off the stick with the team in a good position.”

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