National Geographic Documentary Films’ The Space Race directors Lisa Cortés, left, and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, right, pose with former test pilot Ed Dwight. Cortés is wearing a gray hoodie and black jeans; Dwight is wearing a black crewneck sweater and black pants; and Hurtado de Mendoza is wearing a black hat, a black hoodie, and black jeans.

National Geographic’s New Documentary Film The Space Race Tells the Little-Known Stories of Black Astronauts

By Cecilia Sarantopoulos

In The Space Race, Emmy Award winning Producer & Director Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and Academy Award® nominated and Emmy-winning Producer & Director Lisa Cortés shed light on the journey of the Black astronauts who confronted social injustice to pursue their dreams in space.

Now available on Disney+ and Hulu, the National Geographic Documentary Film offers a compelling narrative that explores the triumphs and challenges faced by African Americans at NASA, intertwining their struggles with significant historical events from 1963 to 2020.

Featuring NASA’s Leland Melvin, Guion Bluford, Ed Dwight, and Charles Bolden, and more, The Space Race gives audiences unprecedented access to archival footage and personal accounts—highlighting how these astronauts’ contributions left an indelible mark on space exploration and inspired generations to reach for the stars.

Former test pilot Ed Dwight sits down for an interview about National Geographic’s The Space Race. He is wearing a black crewneck sweater and black pants. While speaking to a filming camera, a microphone hovers above him. The background features tools hanging from wooden shelves.

Dwight, the first African American to have entered the Air Force training program from which NASA selected astronauts, initially dismissed the opportunity to join it—thinking “it was a joke,” as he recently recalled during a panel at the 2024 Winter Television Critics Association press event. Though Dwight’s initial instinct was that he would never be “allowed to be part of this club,” his mother’s encouragement was just the push he needed to join the program.

One of Dwight’s greatest challenges was reconciling with the necessity of “politics” to navigate such an environment: “I had everything I needed except for the politics of it all,” he remarked. President John F. Kennedy personally selected Dwight to be the first Black astronaut to journey into space—but following Kennedy’s assassination, Dwight lost the backing he had for the mission.

Despite contending with the political dynamics inherent in such environments, Dwight recognizes the significance of his role in initiating discussions about racial representation. When questioned about potential disappointment stemming from being denied the opportunity to travel into space due to racial tensions, Dwight reflects that his time in the White House and interactions with numerous esteemed individuals left him feeling more appreciative than resentful.

“My role was to open up this conversation,” he said. “If I had gone into space and, for some reason, failed, then I would have prevented all the efforts after me and the groups that came after me that did incredible things. I’m so grateful to have been a part of this at all.”

In an image from National Geographic Documentary Films’ The Space Race, astronaut Charlie Bolden is seen on the shuttle Columbia. He is wearing a blue jumpsuit with the American flag sown on his left shoulder and a white helmet that reads “NASA” with red letters. When the panel touched on legacy and opening doors, astronaut Victor Glover—also seen in the film—said that while he’s “grateful to be serving my country and profession, it is sad that it is 2024 and I am the first Black person going to the moon” during NASA’s planned Artemis II mission. Glover also emphasized the importance of having a second and a third person already in place to continue the legacy of “firsts.”

On the topic of “firsts,” director Cortés added, “Everyone in this community looks back to Ed and to the path he opened for a story that continues today. I love that our film is a connection between the past and the present. Ed and his indomitable spirit provide the receipts of a story and the narratives that were almost omitted.”

Former test pilot Ed Dwight smiling during an interview.  He is wearing a black crewneck, a gold necklace, and black pants.

The Space Race is not just a documentary—but a tribute to the resilience, perseverance, and ingenuity of Black astronauts who defied the odds to pursue their dreams and push the boundaries of human achievement.