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Here’s Why We Should Talk About Frederick D. Gregory More Often

Here’s Why We Should Talk About Frederick D. Gregory More Often

More hidden history!

Frederick Drew Gregory is a pioneering figure in space but one who doesn’t get talked about enough. Born January 7, 1941, Gregory is the son of Francis A. and Nora Drew Gregory. He went on to marry Barbara Archer and the couple had two children. Gregory is an accomplished astronaut, test pilot, flight safety program manager, and former Air Force veteran who served as NASA’s Deputy Administrator from 2002 to 2005, NASA History Division reports. 



He has been honored with a number of awards and accolades including the Defense Superior Service Medal, the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, 2 NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, a National Society of Black Engineers Distinguished National Scientist Award, the George Washington University Distinguished Alumni Award, President's Medal, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Honorary Doctor of Science Degrees from the College of Aeronautics and the University of the District of Columbia. 

Here’s why we should talk about Frederick D. Gregory more often, courtesy of


He is the nephew of pioneering surgeon Charles Drew.

“Although Gregory’s parents tried to protect him against demonstrations of racism, his father was a prime example of its effects. Francis A. Gregory was an electrical engineer who was limited to teaching professions due to the prejudices of the day.

Gregory’s uncle, Charles Richard Drew, was a famous surgeon and pioneer in blood plasma production and preservation. Dr. Drew helped prove that there was no difference between white blood and Black blood, but couldn’t overcome resistance against putting the blood of one race into another.”


His admission to the U.S. Air Force Academy was sponsored by U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell.

“After becoming a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), he was introduced to military aircraft during visits to nearby Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and was soon hooked on flying.

In the 1950s Gregory met a member of the Thunderbirds, an Air Force aerobatic flying team, who told him about the new United States Air Force Academy about to open its doors in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Gregory was interested, but decided to stay with family tradition and apply to Amherst College, where his grandfather had attended. Luckily, his father intervened to help the young man do what he loved. Against the odds, the elder Gregory persuaded U.S. Representative Adam Clayton Powell of Harlem to sponsor his son’s application. When Fred Gregory enrolled in the U.S. Air Force Academy in the early 1960s, he was the only black in his class. Occasional resistance against his presence on campus did not affect his performance, however, and he excelled as a cadet, student, and athlete. Gregory graduated from the academy in 1964, in a class that produced 25 generals.”


Gregory got his start as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

“After flying 550 combat missions during a year of distinguished service in Vietnam, Gregory spent the next part of his career learning to fly and then testing the most advanced aircraft operated by the U.S. armed forces. Gregory flew the UH-IF missile support helicopter in Missouri, and F-4 Phantom Combat jets in Texas, before becoming a U.S. Navy test pilot at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. After his test pilot training, he was assigned to the 4950th Test Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio as an operational test pilot flying both jet fighters and helicopters. In 1974 he took on a temporary duty assignment as a research test pilot at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. Gregory returned to Vietnam in 1975 during the American evacuation to fly refugees from the American embassy in Saigon to carriers offshore.

By 1977 Gregory had grown tired of being a test pilot and was eager to move on to something else. At this time NASA announced that it was recruiting new astronauts, and he applied without delay. At first the Air Force was reluctant to submit Gregory’s application to NASA, since most of his experience was in piloting helicopters rather than high-performance jets. Intent on fulfilling the dream of flying in outer space he had nurtured since he was a teenager, Gregory was prepared to resign his commission in order to be accepted by NASA. In 1978 he was one of 35 candidates accepted and, along with Guy Bluford and Ron McNair, became one of the first American black astronauts to enter the NASA program.”


He was the first African-American to pilot a space shuttle.


“By August of 1979, Gregory had successfully undergone training and evaluation that qualified him to serve as a pilot on space shuttle crews. For the next four years he worked in a variety of capacities for NASA, including a stint in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, until he was assigned to pilot the Challenger on the Spacelab 3 mission that took off in April of 1985. Gregory led a seven-man crew that performed medical and materials processing experiments during a week of round-the-clock scientific operations. Satellite deployments were also carried out during the flight.

Although he was the third black to fly into outer space, Gregory was the first to pilot an American spacecraft. He was tremendously moved by his first voyage beyond the earth’s atmosphere, and for him it was a highly religious experience. According to They Had a Dream: The Story of African American Astronauts, Gregory said, “when you’re in space and you’re looking down at earth and you see this perfect globe beneath you and you see the organization and non-chaos, you have to feel, as I did, that there was one great Being—one great force that made this happen.” The astronaut was quoted in Ebony as saying: ‘From our vantage in space, we couldn’t help but redefine the world, where we all are part of a whole global entity, based on the absence of political and arbitrary boundaries on planet Earth.’

As an astronaut he has spent more than 455 hours in outer space, and he commanded three major space missions from 1985 to 1991.”

Thank you for your contributions Mr. Gregory! Because of you, we can!

Here’s why we should talk about Frederick D. Gregory more often. Photo Courtesy of NASA/Smithsonian Air & Space Museum