As a Black boy growing up in the Navajo Nation, Dr. Harris — now a retired NASA astronaut — said he found his passion for space when he admired the stars in the sky above him in that “magical land of grand canyons and painted deserts,” where his mother worked as an educator for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. “And I was inspired when I saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed,” he added. “I said, ‘I want to do that.’”
Harris ultimately did reach similar heights: After earning his medical degree with the intent to — as he put it — “somehow, by hook or crook, find my way to NASA,” he ultimately became one of the 23 NASA astronaut applicants accepted from a pool of nearly 2,000 qualified applicants in 1990. In 1995, Harris became the first African American and Black person of any nationality to walk in space.