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Col. Frederick Drew Gregory

Federal government administrator and aircraft commander Col. Frederick Drew Gregory, Sr. was born on January 7, 1941 in Washington, D.C. to Francis and Nora Gregory. The nephew of medical pioneer Dr. Charles Drew, Gregory grew up in a tight-knit family in Washington, D.C. He developed an interest in flying as a teenager and frequently attended air shows. After graduating from Anacostia High School in 1958, Gregory briefly attended Amherst College and American University before enrolling in the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He received his B.S. degree in 1964 and later obtained his M.S. degree in information systems from George Washington University in 1977.

Upon graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Gregory underwent pilot training for a year before serving in Vietnam as a rescue pilot. He earned numerous military decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1967. Gregory returned to the United States, where he was assigned as a missile support helicopter pilot flying the UH-1F at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. In 1970, Gregory was selected for test pilot school before being loaned to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as an engineering test pilot in 1972. At the suggestion of General Benjamin Davis, the first African American general in the Air Force and a former Tuskegee Airman, Gregory applied to the astronaut training program in 1976 and was selected as one of thirty-five astronauts by NASA in 1978.

In April 1985, Gregory's first mission to space on the space shuttle Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center. He served as the lead capsule communicator during the 1986 Challenger accident in which all seven astronauts onboard were killed. In 1989, Gregory became the first African American space commander when he commanded the mission STS-33 on board the space shuttle Discovery. With the completion of his third space mission on the space shuttle Atlantis in 1991, Gregory was appointed Associate Administrator, Office of Safety and Mission Quality at the NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1993, Gregory retired as a colonel from the Air Force after logging more than 6,976 hours of flying time in over fifty types of aircraft and 550 combat missions in Vietnam. Gregory continued to work with NASA and in 2001 was promoted to NASA Deputy Administrator. After head Administrator Sean O’Keefe left NASA, Gregory served as Acting Administrator of NASA, the first African American to hold this position.

Gregory and his wife Barbara Archer have two adult children, Frederick and Heather.

Col. Frederick Gregory was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 27, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.215

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/27/2007

Last Name

Gregory

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Drew

Schools

Mott Elementary School

Benjamin Banneker Academic High School

Sousa Middle School

Anacostia High School

United States Air Force Academy

George Washington University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Frederick

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

GRE11

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cruises

Favorite Quote

You Are Significant And You Will Contribute.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

1/7/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Federal government administrator and aircraft commander Col. Frederick Drew Gregory (1941 - ) was an astronaut, the first African American space commander and the first African American Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Employment

United States Air Force

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Col. Frederick Drew Gregory's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers his maternal uncle, Dr. Charles R. Drew

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about his maternal relatives

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers his community in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his earliest childhood memories, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his earliest childhood memories, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes the Southeast neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers U Street in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his early influences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls school desegregation in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his high school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his aspiration to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls his nomination to the U.S. Air Force Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls his experiences of discrimination in the South

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls his start at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about race relations at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his education at the U.S. Air Force Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls his aspiration to become a U.S. military pilot

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers his pilot training

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers serving in the Vietnam War, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers serving in the Vietnam War, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls returning from the Vietnam War

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory reflects upon his U.S. military service in the Vietnam War

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls his transition to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers becoming an astronaut

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory reflects upon his career as an astronaut

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls meeting the Apollo 11 astronauts

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about his media recognition as an astronaut

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers the Challenger disaster

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls the aftermath of the Challenger disaster

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about his experiences of spaceflight

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers visiting Madagascar

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about researching his ancestry in Madagascar

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers commanding space shuttle missions

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes the physical sensation of spaceflight

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory remembers his retirement from NASA

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory recalls his acquaintances with U.S. presidents

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Col. Frederick Drew Gregory shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

7$6

DATitle
Col. Frederick Drew Gregory describes his aspiration to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy
Col. Frederick Drew Gregory talks about his experiences of spaceflight
Transcript
(Simultaneous) What year did you graduate?$$Nineteen fifty-eight [1958].$$And what were your thoughts at that time? What did you wanna do next? And who influenced you (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I wanted to, oh, my dad [Francis Gregory] was my major influence, or my mentor. We'll talk about that, but he was my guide. I, in high school [Anacostia High School, Washington, D.C.], I definitely wanted to go to the Air Force Academy [United States Air Force Academy, Colorado]. The school had not really opened at that point, but during one of the air shows, while I observed the demonstration, Air Force demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, I was fascinated by them. And I talked to one of the pilots when he landed, after they landed. And I said, "How can I become a Thunderbird?" And he said, "You should go to this school they're building in Colorado called the Air Force Academy." And so I think at that point, I decided that I wanted to go there. And that would have been, let's see, the first class graduated in '59 [1959]. This was probably somewhere between '55 [1955] and '56 [1956] or '57 [1957], sometime in that time frame when the school was being built. But the class, but the school had not been occupied yet or had not been used. So I think at that point, I decided that that's where I wanted to go. And, however, there was parental influence to follow in my ancestors' foot- schools, school systems. My grandfather [James Francis Gregory] on my father's side had gone to Amherst [Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts], graduated in 1908, I'm sorry, 1898, and my uncle, Charlie Drew [Charles R. Drew]--so this is on the Drew side, had graduated from Amherst in 1926. And so I think I was the stucky [ph.], I was the (laughter) chosen person. And so I was admitted to Amherst, but it was very clear to me that that is not, that was not the place I wanted to go. And so I told my dad that, and I think he knew that. And so he, the Air Force Academy required a congressional nomination. And so he went into the halls of [U.S.] Congress, as I understand it, and approached every black congressman and asked if he would, I don't think there were any shes, but all hes, would take a chance and nominate me for the Air Force Academy. The first year, I was identified in one of the congressmen's list. We took tests--at that time, they would designate a principal nominee and alt- and then alternates. So there would be one principal and ten alternates. And this particular congressman identified a guy named Chuck Bush [Charles V. Bush], Charlie Bush, to be the principal. There were ten alternates, and I was number ten. Chuck passed and was accepted. None of the other alternates passed except for me.$You had done some research, experiments while piloting or co-piloting the Challenger?$$We had, the pilot commander had some limited role in the experimentation that was going on. I mean our principal job was to maintain the orbiter and provide the environment that the, you know, the smart guys could work in. I was one of the youngest on that flight. I was in my forties at the time, and so myself and Norm Thagard [Norman E. Thagard], who was one of the mission specialists, were the two trained to do an EVA [extravehicular activity] if there was a contingency that required it. That did not exist so I suspect I was the only pilot ever trained as a walk in space, EVA. We had shifts and so Bob Overmyer [Robert F. Overmyer] was a commander, and he kind of oversaw one shift, twelve hour shift, and I was the overseer of the other shift, as that first shift would sleep. You know, we just essentially switched back and forth.$$What was it like? I mean describe the experience, weightlessness?$$Yeah.$$What was that like? What's space like?$$Space is fantastic. When you fly, you will know that you're either a earth person or a deep space, and I think I was more of a deep space. Deep space, space to me, it's, it looks two dimensional, but it's very deep. To me, it's like black velvet with diamonds on it and somebody shining a light on, fascinating. And then you realize that the stars you see are separated by significant differences. It just takes that amount of time for the light to get to you. So some things, some light that you see may have been emitted by this star 10 million years before and it just got to you. You watch the earth and you're traveling at about seven miles a second. It takes an hour and a half to circle the earth. So your sense of distances is, is greatly changed and challenged. Your sense of neighbors changes because, you know, what do you define as a neighborhood? Probably something that's easily accessible. Well, when you fly across the Atlantic Ocean in about fifteen minutes, folks in Europe are just kind of neighbors. And well, you can't discern boundaries on the ground. So you, you know, you fly across the country, the United States, and you can't tell Iowa from Texas. I mean there's nothing there that would allow you to say, ah, that's definitely Oklahoma. But you can't tell that. The same with Africa and Europe. As you moved into Eastern Europe, you can't tell the difference. And you wonder why these folks hate each other, but you can't tell any difference. So it's my belief that all of the politicos ought to go fly before they start making arbitrary decisions about this and that, ethnicity, religion and culture and things like that. It's just not apparent from space. It was, it had such an impact on me that when I came home, what I wanted to do was go meet my neighbors.