Today in African-American Transportation History – Alvin Drew, 200th Person to Walk in Space

Alvin Drew, an African-American NASA astronaut, became the 200th person to walk in space. He conducted this spacewalk as a member of the six-person crew on STS-133, the 39th and final mission of Space Shuttle Discovery. Drew’s milestone excursion outside a spacecraft in orbit took place just a little over 16 years after fellow astronaut Bernard A. Harris Jr. had made history as the first African-American to walk in space.

Drew was born in Washington, D.C., in 1962, and grew up in the region. He harbored hopes of becoming a pilot at a very young age. “From the time I was four years old, I needed to fly,” he recalled in an interview not long before he made his way into space as part of the STS-133 crew. Drew also recounted how, while accompanying his family to present-day Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to see his father off on business trips, he would find himself “just absolutely obsessed with the planes” taking off from that Maryland facility.

Alvin Drew’s airborne aspirations, however, briefly encountered some headwinds just before his sixth birthday. While at school one day during the fall of 1968, he and other first-grade students watched the launch of the Apollo 7 mission on a small black-and-white television in their classroom. Drew was thrilled by this flight into space. “I was torn like ‘No I need to do this, too,’” he later explained. After returning home from school that day, Drew talked about his new-found dilemma on whether to become a pilot or astronaut. His father put everything into perspective. “And he goes, ‘You can do both those things,’” Drew recalled years later. “’All these astronauts have been pilots’ and that just sealed it for me. That was what I was going to go try and do.”

In 1980, Drew graduated from Gonzaga College High School in the nation’s capital. He went on to earn a dual B.S. degree in physics and aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1984. At that time, he also received his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). Drew subsequently completed undergraduate helicopter pilot training, earning his wings in 1985. He served as a combat rescue helicopter pilot until 1987, when he transitioned into USAF special operations. In this capacity, Drew flew 60 combat missions in various military operations that included Just Cause in Panama in 1989-90 and Desert Storm during the Gulf War in 1991. He completed additional flight training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1994 and then served on the USAF Air Combat Command staff.

By the time Drew retired from the USAF in 2010, he had logged approximately 3,000 hours of flying time and flown in more than 30 types of aircraft. He also found time during his military service to earn a master of aerospace science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a master of strategic studies in political science from the USAF Air University.

Drew’s career at NASA officially began during the summer of 2000 when he reported for training as a mission specialist. His first spaceflight occurred when he was a member of the seven-person crew on board Space Shuttle Endeavour for STS-118 in August 2007. Between that mission and STS-133, Drew has logged over 612 hours in space.

For more information on Alvin Drew, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Drew.

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