Robert H. Lawrence in 1967. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. is not a household name, but he was the first black astronaut to train with NASA. In part, his obscurity is owed to the secrecy surrounding the program he took part in and which ultimately cut him down in his prime. Over the years, however, Lawrence has been slowly gaining recognition for his achievements.
The latest attempt to honor his legacy is scheduled for Monday, when artist Tavares Strachan’s 24-karat gold urn featuring a bust of the astronaut will do what Lawrence unfortunately never got to: enter outer space when it’s launched from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Strachan named the satellite sculpture ENOCH after the Biblical character who, in Hebrews 11:5, was said to have been, “taken up [by God] so that he did not see death.”
Strachan, born in the Bahamas and living in New York, represented the archipelagic state in 2013 for its inaugural entry into the Venice Biennale, where he paid homage to another black pioneer of rarely charted territories, Matthew Henson. Strachan recreated Henson’s 1909 North Pole expedition in a video installation.
Strachan was a 2014 grant recipient from the Art+Technology Lab at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which made the ENOCH project possible.