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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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Speaker tells crowd to shoot for the stars


The first African-American to walk in space said that only through unwavering persistence was he able to accomplish his goal of becoming an astronaut in his “Infinite Possibilities” lecture Thursday at the M.D. Anderson Library.

Bernard A. Harris Jr., a UH alumnus, spoke to approximately 150 students, faculty and guests about his career as an astronaut and the years that followed in promotion of his book “Dream Walker: A Journey of Achievement and Inspiration,” in the event hosted by the Honors College.

“It’s not just a straight path to outer space, there are a lot of peaks and valleys… a lot of challenges,” Harris said. “It doesn’t matter how you persevere through those challenges, but how you use them as stepping stones to reach higher.”

Harris was rejected after applying to the astronaut corps in 1987.

“I could’ve stopped there, but I figured out this is what I really wanted,” he said.

Three years later he was one of 23 people to be selected out of the 6,000 that applied to join NASA’s 13th class of astronauts.

After two missions and 18 days in space, Harris decided to take on a new mission. He stressed the importance of investing in young people and making sure they are educated in math and science.

He established the Harris Foundation in 1998, a non-profit organization that supports math and science education and crime prevention programs for America’s youth. Exxon Mobil Corp. sponsors the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp held across 25 colleges and universities including UH. The camp is free and provides an opportunity for middle school students to boost their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I tell my story to them because I want to show them and teach them and demonstrate to them that it doesn’t matter how you start life; it doesn’t matter what adversities or challenges that you deal with, it is how you deal with them and how you use them as stepping stones, as hurdles to reach higher and higher,” Harris said.

UH played a major role in Harris’ background. He graduated with a bachelor of science in Biology and later a master’s in business administration. His time at UH helped him establish a path towards earning a medical degree from Texas Tech University.

“I look at this University as my launching pad for space and certainly for life,” Harris said.

Harris contemplated becoming an astronaut as a child living in a Navajo reservation in the northern part of New Mexico and Arizona.

“I watched the sun go down at night, the stars appear in the heavens and wondered what it would be like to travel among those stars,” said Harris.

Being in outer space completely changed Harris’ perspective of life on Earth.

“It makes you colorblind,” said Harris. “I’m an earthling — from Texas.”

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