These new astronauts are “preparing for takeoff” in NASA’s Astronaut Office.

On March 5, 2024, NASA held a graduation ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, as 10 new graduates, “The Flies,” crossed the stage after completing two years of training, per a news release.

Among the graduates are Andre Douglas and Christopher Williams — representing for Black astronauts. The monumental milestone is a dream come true for both Douglas and Williams. However, the two each had to make crucial decisions along their career paths that ultimately led to turning their dreams into reality.

Following NASA’s graduation ceremony, Douglas recalled in an interview with AFROTECH™ about his journey of leaving the U.S. Coast Guard to pursue becoming an astronaut.

While it became a great part of the Virginia native, and his father, who was also in the service, he knew he wanted to be in aerospace.

Douglas’ curiosity for the industry began at age 7 when he looked through a telescope for the first time alongside his mother, whom he credits for exposing him to space.

“I wanted to be able to go from being a naval architect and a mechanical engineer to a space systems engineer and do space exploration because I had that goal as a kid to be an astronaut,” Douglas explained to AFROTECH™. “So, the hardest thing to do, for me, was to leave a service that I had known my entire life.”

Nonetheless, Douglas stayed true to his career pivot and went to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (APL), where he learned how to be a space systems engineer.

Williams, who hails from Potomac, MD, shared the same childhood dream as Douglas. However, his higher education background began in physics. What’s more, he became a board-certified medical physicist after completing his residency at Harvard Medical School. He later went on to join its faculty as a clinical physicist and researcher.

However, Williams’ first real glimpse into what it looked like to be a professional scientist was in high school when he was paired with a mentor who worked at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C.

“Getting the chance to do that in high school and having a scientist that was willing to take the time to mentor a high schooler and show them what it could be like to be a scientist, that certainly changed my life,” Williams expressed to AFROTECH™. 

According to a Scripps News report, as of January 2023, NASA had enlisted 360 astronauts since inception. The outlet also shared that 18 of them have been Black. As Douglas and Williams have joined the underrepresented group, they aim to be proof and a source of inspiration for young, aspiring Black astronauts that it’s possible. 

“One of the things I really hope aspiring Black astronauts take away from me being here and my story is that there are people that look like you that can do this job,” Williams said. “I know on the road to being where I am — pretty much my entire professional career before today — I’ve been the only person in the room who’s looked like me. You always feel like you’re blazing a path that nobody else has trodden before, and I think that I’m living proof that people who look like us can end up here.”

Sharing the same sentiment, Douglas told AFROTECH™, “Our whole goal is to show that the door is there and it’s possible you can step through it.”