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Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr.

Astronaut, medical scientist, and management executive Bernard A. Harris was born in Temple, Texas on June 26, 1956 to Bernard A. Harris, Sr. and Gussie Emanual Harris. During his youth, Harris lived on the Navajo reservations of Arizona and New Mexico, where his mother found employment as a teacher. At the age of thirteen, Harris watched the first landing on the moon, and he knew that he wanted to become an astronaut. Harris’s family returned to Texas shortly after, and he graduated from Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, Texas in 1974. During high school, Harris decided he wanted to be a medical doctor and so attended the University of Houston, where he earned his B.S. degree in biology in 1978, and the Texas Tech University Health Science Center of Medicine, where he received his M.D. degree in 1982. He then completed his residency in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Never forgetting his aspirations to become an astronaut, Harris followed a career path that would enable him to realize this dream. Upon completing his residency, Harris pursued research opportunities at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and later the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, specifically taking up projects that would appeal to the interests of the astronaut selection committee. After his first application to the NASA Astronaut Corps. was declined, Harris reapplied and was invited to join the elite training group in 1990. Following the completion of intensive training, Harris was given his first assignment as a mission specialist of the Space Shuttle Columbia in the spring of 1993, just a few months after the birth of his daughter, Brooke Alexandria. Two years later, Harris returned to space and made history as the first African American to walk in space, where he and crew member Michael Foale tested the temperature resilience of their spacesuits.

Following his career in astronautics, Harris became an entrepreneur, working first as vice president of Spacehab, Inc. in 1996, where he worked on the commercialization of space exploration. After earning his M.B.A. degree from the University of Houston Clear Lake, Harris became executive director of Versalius Ventures in 2001.

Harris has received much recognition for his work as astronaut, entrepreneur, and as a community developer. In addition to becoming a fellow of the American College of Physicians, he is also the winner of The Challenger Award from the Ronald E. McNair Foundation, and recipient of the prestigious Horatio Alger Award. The Dr. Bernard A. Harris Middle School was named in his honor in 2006. That same year Harris established the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp and the Dream Tour, two STEM programs to encourage minority students to pursue an interest in the sciences.

Bernard Harris was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 6, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.034

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/6/2013 |and| 3/4/2014

Last Name

Harris

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

A.

Schools

Sam Houston High School

University of Houston

Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Medicine

University of Houston-Clear Lake

University of Texas Medical Branch

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Bernard

Birth City, State, Country

Temple

HM ID

HAR39

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Triple Creek Ranch, Montana

Favorite Quote

Dreams Are The Reality Of The Future.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

6/26/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Corn

Short Description

Astronaut and medical scientist Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. (1956 - ) was best known for being the first African American to walk in space.

Employment

Mayo Clinic

National Research Council (NRC)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astronaut Corp.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Space Lab, Inc.

Space Media, Inc.

Vesalius Ventures, Inc.

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his mother's upbringing in Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his parents, and his family's early life in Houston, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the year following his parents' divorce

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his sister, Gillette Emmanuel

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his family's experience on the Navajo reservation in Greasewood, Arizona

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his cultural experience on the Navajo reservation in Greasewood, Arizona

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks his childhood interests while living in Greasewood, Arizona

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his experience in Tohatchi, New Mexico

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his introduction to science and the space program

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about astronauts Ed Dwight and Robert Lawrence

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the 1969 moon landing

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his interest in playing the saxophone

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his childhood personality, and his teachers and mentors in school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his brother, Dennis Harris

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about being in a band named 'Purple Haze'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his experience at Sam Houston High School

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his role models in medicine and astronautics

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his senior year of high school and his summers with his band

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his father attending his high school graduation

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his mentors at the University of Houston

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Slating of Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr.'s interview, session 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers pledging to the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his early mentors

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers applying to medical school

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the medical program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers applying for his medical residency

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his early aspiration to become an astronaut, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the impact of space travel on the human body

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. recalls his work at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his early aspiration to become an astronaut, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. recalls his early career at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers the NASA Astronaut Candidate Program

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the types of astronaut positions

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. recalls his space flight training in Russia

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers his first NASA mission

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the zero gravity simulation training at NASA

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the preparations for space flight, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the demographics of NASA

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the preparations for space flight, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. recalls his experiences of the space shuttle launch

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the adjustment to zero gravity

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his experiences of space travel, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his experiences of space travel, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the space shuttle intra-crew dynamics

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the daily life of an astronaut

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his second mission with NASA

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers his first spacewalk

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes the space shuttle reentry process

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the findings of his NASA space missions

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. remembers his decision to leave NASA

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his graduate studies and his work with Space Media, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes The Harris Foundation

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. recalls the start of Vesalius Ventures, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his medical career

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about the American Telemedicine Association

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his company, Vesalius Ventures, Inc.

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his memoir, 'Dream Walker: A Journey of Achievement and Inspiration'

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. recalls bringing the Navajo Nation flag into space

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. talks about his daughter

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. reflects upon his life and spirituality

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. reflects upon his experiences as an astronaut

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

7$8

DATitle
Bernard Harris talks about his introduction to science and the space program
Bernard Harris talks about his role models in medicine and astronautics
Transcript
Now, did you--now, was it in Tohatchi [New Mexico, on the Navajo reservation, where Harris' mother, Gussie Lee Burgess, worked as a teacher] that you first were, you know, were exposed, I guess, or became cognizant of the space program?$$Um-hum, yep--$$Okay.$$--because I was, that would make me about eleven, twelve. Now, you know, the space program is heating, you know, it's kind of heating up. We have put a man into orbit, and now we're into the Apollo [space] program. And so I watched that develop, and when I was thirteen, '69 [1969] was when it really all kind of came together for me. But, yeah, that's when I--and I also got involved in science. You asked the question earlier. That's, now, you're into--you know, you've gotten out of kind of out of the basic elementary, and now you're getting into biology and then in junior high and high school, chemistry. Now, I'm being exposed to science. I'm being exposed to, you know, chemistry, to aviation. I belong to the Rocket Club where we built rockets, Estes rockets [model rockets]. We even built a flying saucer that left a, you know, real big impression on me because I was also, now, I've got television reception, right? So then I'm watching 'Buck Rogers' and I'm watching 'Star Trek' and, you know, I'm watching sci-fi [science fiction] shows. It's just feeding the imagination of this kid.$$Now, how--I'm tempted to ask, and when you mentioned the flying saucer--$$Yeah.$$--how close Tohatchi is to Roswell [New Mexico].$$(Laughter) I know, I know. Well, this is one of those plastic flying saucers, right? And it was, what made it interesting is when the teacher introduced this concept of a flying saucer, of course, you know, I was all into it. And it had a fan. And he introduced it at the beginning of the year which is in, kind of the late summer, fall, so it was hot. So I distinctly remember taking it outside, turning the thing on, and it didn't lift off the ground, and then the teacher explaining why it didn't lift off the ground. First of all, it was hot, and our altitude--I can't remember were we at 5,000 feet, 4,000 feet, just under 5,000 feet. So the altitude, there was not enough air to get lift. So when we had our first snow, the exciting thing about it was that we all went outside, and I remember this like it was yesterday, outside of his classroom, and the snow is falling. It's cold outside. We turn the flying saucer on and it rises. So now, he's got, you know, these kids just mesmerized. Now, why did this happen? Now, he's teaching us about, you know, aerodynamics and density of air and all that sort of thing. And I was soaking it up, you know, as a kid.$$So you're about thirteen when this--$$Yeah, probably, probably twelve at this point--$$Okay.$$--I'm trying to think about it, though, probably twelve.$$Let me ask you, now, you were aware of John Glenn's [first American to orbit the Earth, and the fifth person in space] orbiting the--$$Um-hum.$$--earth when you're a kid?$$Yeah.$$And did you, were you aware of Ed Dwight [first African American to be trained as an astronaut; also a HistoryMaker] and Robert Lawrence [first African American astronaut] when you were coming up?$$No, no, not at all. I didn't learn about those two until I actually started working at NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration], you know, many years later, you know, in about '87 [1987] is when I first started working at NASA.$$Okay.$$And we can get to that. That's a story--I have a story around that too, of course.$$Now, in terms of information too, coming into the household, did your mother subscribe to 'JET' [magazine] or 'Ebony' [magazine] or anything like that?$$Of course, yeah. 'Ebony' and 'JET' were the main magazines and 'LIFE' [magazine] at the time.$$All right, so I'm just thinking the information flow of what you were getting, and, you know.$$So, you know, the information flow I was getting was, now, getting a lot more because we're closer to, you know, to the city. And so I'm able to follow the space program and what's happening in the newspapers that we've got and the magazines. But more importantly, now, we've got a television that has four channels. Can you imagine that? Four channels (laughter).$$That was good for 1967.$$It was (laughter).$Another important person from what I've read is, Dr. Frank Bryant.$$Dr. Frank Bryant, yeah. Yeah, so Dr. Bryant was our family physician. And, you know, in high school, he wasn't as big an influence as later on when I would come back during college [University of Houston, Texas] and during the summers and began to think, you know, that I wanted to become a medical doctor and pre-med and then start chatting with him about next steps. You know, so how do I get into medical school? How do I do that and him taking the time to introduce me to other medical students and to let me come into his office and invite me over to his home. That was, that was very important. But I think the other thing is that early on I saw him as a prominent African American doing great things for his community. And so he became a role model. I have these two types of role models. There are role models that are hands-on, that work with you, and there are role models from afar. So I would say in high school, he was a role model from afar because all--my only contact with him was when we'd go and see him as a physician. But I saw what he did. I watched what he did. I watched how he interacted with the family. And then he became this hands-on role model. If I was to back up to, you know, the inspiration I got from the early space program, those were role models from afar that I saw. So when I got into thinking that I wanted to be an astronaut, you know, Neil Armstrong and Buzz [Aldrin; American astronauts; the first to walk on the moon] were these guys that I had never met, but I watched what they did. Joe Kerwin who was the first American physician to go into space, I watched what he did. And it's been kind of interesting being an astronaut, being able to talk to these guys, you know, as a colleague and growing up seeing them, you know, and now being able to sit down and talk to them and going, "Wow, did you really go to the moon?" (laughter) And have them say, "Yes, I was there and this is what it was like." (laughter)