Astronaut of Jamaican heritage joins test flight of commercial spacecraft
Astronaut Christopher Huie, the son of Jamaican immigrants, got to wear his Caribbean heritage on his sleeve yesterday when he undertook his first space mission as part of a four-man crew aboard the Unity 25 spacecraft.
Huie, a 35-year-old trained senior engineer and resident of Los Angeles, wore Jamaican and United States patches on his uniform during the planned test run of a mothership and spaceship at Virgin Atlantic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, ahead of intended 90-minute commercial trips to take place beginning next month.
“For me, it is part of my personal origin story. My parents came to this country from Jamaica looking for more opportunities and to do more with their lives. Both my parents, especially my mum, sacrificed a lot so I could have opportunities she didn’t have growing up,” Huie told online platform Metro.co.uk before the test flight.
“I have had a lot more opportunities in my life than she [his mother] has had, and that’s all culminating in the space flight experience. It’s not only for Jamaica, it’s for immigrants anywhere looking for opportunities to see what you can do with the life that you’ve been given. It’s a story of sacrifice and achievement, that’s what it represents for me,” Huie added.
Yesterday’s test flight made Huie the world’s 19th Black astronaut after having graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. He had previously worked in the aerospace industry’s private sector until 2016 when he joined Virgin Galactic as a loads and simulation engineer.
Huie’s experience is already creating a path for other aspiring Black astronauts to follow, as he has also co-founded Virgin Galactic’s Black Leaders in Aerospace Scholarship and Training (BLAST) programme, which includes mentorship for college students.
FULFILMENT OF CHILDHOOD DREAM
Huie explained that, for him, the test flight was the fulfilment of a childhood dream derived from making spaceships out of LEGO toys.
“I would play with LEGO and I would, pretty much, only build spaceships and flying vehicles, so I was obsessed with machines and building things from a young age. I did want to be an astronaut for a little while, then I decided I wanted to be a pilot, then I changed my mind about being a pilot,” said Huie.
“It seemed like a long road to be a fighter pilot and I just changed careers to become an aerospace engineer. I did not ever think I would ever have an opportunity to go into space,” Huie added. “Growing up, there was only one avenue to get there, and that was essentially going through the military, becoming a test pilot, and having a one in 10 million chance of becoming an astronaut.”
Virgin Galactic, which was founded by billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist, and airline mogul Sir Richard Branson in 2004, has been billed as the world’s first commercial space line.