In honor of the first African American to be selected as an astronaut, Northrop Grumman named the Cygnus spacecraft for the NG-13 cargo launch to the International Space Station “S.S. Robert H. Lawrence.”
The US Air Force (USAF) selected Maj. Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., on June 30, 1967, as a member of the third group of aerospace research pilots for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) Program, making him the first African-American to be selected as an astronaut by any national space program. Maj. Lawrence perished in a training flight in late 1967.
The MOL was a joint project of the USAF and the National Reconnaissance Office to obtain high-resolution photographic imagery of America’s Cold War adversaries. After the 1969 cancellation of the MOL program, NASA invited the younger (under 35) MOL astronauts to join its astronaut corps – seven of them transferred to NASA on August 14, 1969, as the Group 7 astronaut class and all of them went on to fly on the space shuttle in the 1980s.