Bernard Harris Jr.

Bernard Harris is a former NASA astronaut who set NUMBER records being an African-American in space. He was born Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr. on June 26, 1956 in Temple, Texas. In school he was actively involved in science fairs, book clubs and other activities, and in 1969 he decided he wanted to be an astronaut after watching the Apollo 11 mission on television. He graduated from Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, Texas in 1974, and went on to attend the University of Houston, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology in 1978. He then attended the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine and earned his Doctorate of Medicine in 1982. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in 1985. Harris subsequently reported to NASA’s Ames Research Center, where he carried out experiments and researched musculature physiology. In 1987 he completed a National Research Council Fellowship there, and then reported to the Johnson Space Center as a clinical scientist. He also attended the Aerospace School of Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, where he trained as a flight surgeon in 1988.

NASA chose Harris to be an astronaut candidate in January 1990, and he became eligible to fly as a mission specialist astronaut in July 1991. His initial assignment was crew representative for Shuttle Software in the Astronaut Office Operations Development Branch. His first flight to space was as a mission specialist aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-55. The ten-day mission, which launched on April 26, 1993, carried the payload crew of Spacelab D-2 and performed a variety of research in physical and life sciences. The mission allowed Columbia to reach one year of accumulated flight time. His second flight to space was the Payload Commander on STS-63 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. The mission launched on February 3, 1995 and experienced many firsts. It was the first flight of the year, the first ever flight with a female pilot, the first rendezvous with the Russian Space Station Mir, and the first flight of the new joint Russian-American Space Program. Additionally, Harris became the first African-American to walk in space. After 129 orbits of the Earth, the mission ended with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center on February 11, 1995.

In April 1996, Harris left NASA and went on to work as Vice President of SPACEHAB, directing the company’s space commercialization business. That same year he earned a Master’s degree in biomedical science from The University of Texas Medical Branch. He also served as Vice President of Business Development for Space Media and as a member of the Board of Regents of the Texas Tech University System. In 1998, Harris founded The Harris Foundation which is a not for profit organization based in Houston that invests in community-based initiatives to support education, health and wealth. In 2009, he was elected Vice President of the American Telemedicine Association, and two years later was elected President of the association in 2011, serving for a one-year term. Currently, Harris is President and Chief Executive Officer of Vesalius Ventures, Inc. He is also a licensed private pilot and certified scuba diver, and has a school dedicated to him—Dr. Bernard A. Harris Middle School.

Image Caption:  Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr. a former NASA astronaut. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia