In the 20-some years that people have been living aboard the International Space Station, its extended crew has never included a Black astronaut. Victor J. Glover, a Navy commander and test pilot who joined the astronaut corps in 2013, will be the first.
Since the International Space Station’s inception it has seen numerous other milestones: hosting the world’s first space tourist, having its first female commander and enduring the transition from U.S. astronauts being transported through NASA’s space shuttle program to using SpaceX’s spacecraft.
But Mr. Glover’s achievement is notable for NASA, which has worked to spotlight the “hidden figures” in its history, but has so far sent only 14 Black Americans to space out of a total of more than 300 NASA astronauts.
He will not be the first Black astronaut aboard the station. But those who preceded him from NASA were members of space shuttle crews during the station’s construction and only made brief stays on the outpost.
Mr. Glover and three other astronauts will launch on Sunday aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule named Resilience and are expected to spend about six months aboard the station.
Next year, he could be followed by Jeanette Epps, who would be the first Black woman to to be part of an I.S.S. crew. She will fly aboard the first operational crewed trip of Boeing’s Starliner capsule. (In 2018, she was pulled from a flight to the station and replaced with Serena Auñón-Chancellor.)
NASA first involved Black Americans in the astronaut program in the 1960s when Ed Dwight, an Air Force test pilot, became an astronaut candidate. But he never went to space. Guion S. Bluford Jr. became the first Black American in space in 1983 aboard the space shuttle Challenger; Mae Jemison was the first Black woman in 1992.
Sunday’s launch follows a summer of racial and social unrest in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of the Minneapolis police. When asked during a news conference on Monday about his thoughts on making history, Mr. Glover modestly nodded to the significance.
“It is something to be celebrated once we accomplish it, and I am honored to be in this position and to be a part of this great and experienced crew,” he said. “And I look forward to getting up there and doing my best to make sure, you know, we are worthy of all the work that’s been put into setting us up for this mission. You know, unlike the election — that is in the past or receding in the past — this mission is still ahead of me. So, let’s get there, and I’ll talk to you after I get on board.”
During the summer, Mr. Glover responded to a question on social media about astronauts sticking strictly to space.
“Actually no,” he said on Twitter. “Remember who is doing space. People are. As we address extreme weather and pandemic disease, we will understand and overcome racism and bigotry so we can safely and together do space. Thanks for asking.”
He also said this week in an interview with The Christian Chronicle, a publication of the Churches of Christ, that the milestone was “bittersweet.”
“I’ve had some amazing colleagues before me that really could have done it, and there are some amazing folks that will go behind me,” Mr. Glover said. “I wish it would have already been done, but I try not to draw too much attention to it.”
Charles F. Bolden Jr., who served as NASA administrator under President Barack Obama, said that while Mr. Glover was making history, he should not feel burdened.
“Several of us have had an opportunity to try to talk with him regularly and try to help put him at ease and help him understand he’s not carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders,” said Mr. Bolden, who is also Black and spent almost 700 hours in space as a NASA astronaut. “He shouldn’t feel unusual responsibility because he’s Black. He should just go and be another crew member and have a good time.”
Mr. Glover is married to Dionna Odom, and they have four children.
Originally from Pomona, Calif., Mr. Glover graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general engineering from California Polytechnic State University in 1999. Over the course of 2007 to 2010, he earned three master’s degrees: in flight test engineering, systems engineering and military operational art and science.
Mr. Glover is often referred to by his counterparts as Ike, a nod to a call sign a former commanding officer gave him that stands for “I know everything.”