Bradley professors react to alum getting spacecraft in his name

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — It’s one small step for man and one giant step for this Bradley University alum during Black History Month.

Robert H. Lawrence Jr. was the first African American astronaut and, Sunday, the company Northrop Grumman is naming the NG-13 spacecraft after him, which will then launch to the International Space Station.

Dr. Dean Campbell, a professor in Bradley’s Chemistry and Biochemistry department, said he was overjoyed after hearing the news of Lawrence getting a spacecraft named after him.

“I am stoked about it on a number of different levels,” Campbell said. “It’s impressive to have a spacecraft named after a chemist and especially a Bradley graduate.”

Dr. Campbell said Lawrence graduated from Bradley with a chemistry degree in 1956. He said the fact that Lawrence was not only a chemist but also the first African American astronaut who happened to be a Bradley graduate makes this event all the more impressive to him.

“To me, that’s a convergence of really interesting things to put together and we’re pretty excited about it,” Campbell said.

Dr. Michelle Fry, the Chair and Associate Professor of the Mund-Lagoski Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, had similar sentiments. She said it’s an honor to have an alum like Lawerence walk the halls of Bradley.

“He was a remarkable person,” Fry said. “Even in a short life, he accomplished so much and he’s left a legacy at Bradley that persists.”

Dr. Fry said Major Lawrence’s legacy includes, but isn’t limited to, the Robert H. Lawrence Endowed Lectureship, the Major Robert H. Lawrence Jr. Memorial Scholarship (which was established the same year as his death), and the Lawrence Conference Room which was built in 1989.

Dr. Fry said during Major Lawrence’s time at Bradley, he was a member of ROTC and the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. She said he eventually learned German so he could train fighter pilots overseas.

Dr. Fry said he was killed in 1967 while he was training a student in a Lockheed F-104 before he could actually go into space. However, she said this honor is a testament to the level of determination and tenacity he exhibited while he was alive.

“It’s sort of a remarkable goal and achievement and that just speaks to the hope and the aspirations and the dreaming that Major Lawrence could do, plus his grit and perseverance to make that happen,” Fry said.

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