This Day In History: February 9

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NASA astronaut Bernard Harris becomes the first Black man to walk in space. His mission contributes to a burgeoning collaboration between the United States and Russia in space exploration.

Bernard Harris stepped out of the space shuttle Discovery in orbit on February 9, 1995. He first embarked on the unlikely journey toward his historic spacewalk as a child, inspired by stargazing in his home state of Texas. Harris described his determination to become an astronaut as a "big leap of faith" at a time when the Apollo 11 moon landing shared headlines with the struggle for civil rights. "The main challenge was the color of my skin."

Harris earned his medical degree and completed a residency at the Mayo Clinic before joining NASA as a flight surgeon. As an M.D. at NASA, Harris researched how human bone reacts to space flight, and he designed medical devices to help astronauts' bodies adapt. In 1990, NASA selected him as part of its 13th astronaut class. In his career as an astronaut, Harris spent 18 days in space—and about five hours on his historic spacewalk. He recalled the awe of floating in space, seeing "this blue and white planet…against this backdrop of stars that I initially saw from Earth, and now see in space… Everything had its place. I have a greater sense of belonging, of the connectedness of all of us." Throughout his NASA career, he traveled more than 7.2 million miles in space.

Harris's 1995 mission—STS-63, nicknamed the "near Mir" mission—marked an early example of American-Russian cooperation after the fall of the Soviet Union. After decades of rivalry during the Cold War space race, the two world powers had begun to collaborate on space exploration. STS-63 was not only the first NASA mission to approach and fly around Mir, the Russian space station, but it was the second NASA mission to include a Russian cosmonaut. These collaborations eventually led to the creation of the International Space Station, which went into orbit in 1998. The 1995 "near Mir" mission also included groundbreaking astronaut Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot a NASA space shuttle.

After retiring from NASA in 1996, Harris pivoted to promoting math and science education. He established the Harris Institute and Foundation in 1998 to foster education and well-being in underserved communities. He has also served as a board member and CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative and runs a venture capital firm focusing on the healthcare industry.

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