During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Frederick D. Gregory, who served in Vietnam and as an astronaut.
Frederick D. Gregory was born in Washington, D.C., in January 1941. Gregory’s interest in aviation began at a young age. His father, a teacher and engineer, was friends with several members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who often visited Gregory’s house and talk about flying. After taking part in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at his local high school, Gregory decided to pursue a career in military aviation. While attending an air show in the 1950s, Gregory met a member of the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, and asked how he could join them. The pilot advised Gregory to attend the newly opened U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Gregory graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1964, received a bachelor’s degree in military engineering and began training as a helicopter pilot at Stead Air Force Base in Nevada. Upon receiving his pilot’s wings in 1965, he volunteered to go to Vietnam. Gregory spent a year in Vietnam, from 1966 to 1967. In that time, he flew 550 missions, serving as the pilot of a rescue helicopter. After returning to the U.S., Gregory attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland. He served as a test pilot at both Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia. In the late 1970s, while working on his master’s degree in information systems at George Washington University, Gregory considered joining the astronaut program.
“I was a ‘Star Trek’ freak,” Gregory said in a 2004 interview, “and the communications officer, Lt. Uhura, [played by] Nichelle Nichols, showed up on TV in a blue flight suit… she pointed at me and she said, ‘I want you to join the astronaut program.’”
Gregory did just that. NASA selected him for the astronaut corps in 1978, becoming one of the first African American astronauts in American history, alongside Guion Bluford and Ronald McNair. As an astronaut, Gregory filled a variety of roles at NASA, including flight data file manager, lead capsule communicator, chief of operational safety and chief of astronaut training. Gregory was the first African American to pilot an American spacecraft.
Gregory retired from the Air Force in 1993 with the rank of colonel. In his 30 years in the service, he logged 7,000 flight hours in more than 50 types of aircraft. He also spent over 450 hours in space. Gregory remained at NASA for another decade, serving as both associate administrator for the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and associate administrator for the Office of Space Flight. From 2002 until 2005, Gregory served as NASA deputy administrator, the first African American to hold that post.
Throughout his career, Gregory received numerous honors, including a Defense Superior Service Medal, a Legion of Merit, a National Intelligence Medal of Achievement, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
Thank you for your service!
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Writer: Stephen Hill
Editors: Alexander Reza and Merrit Pope
Fact checker: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic artist: Kiki Kelley