Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dr. Robert E. Shurney (11/25/07)

I've lost another one of my role models. Seems like its that time in my life. The time when the vanguard of your childhood moves on to rest. Feels like one long line to me - and it's sad. However, I'll take a moment to share with you here someone I knew as a great man - and one that very few people really knew about. Dr. Robert E. Shurney - many knew him as Dr. Bob - but I knew him as "Uncle Robert". Now, if you are a West Indian, you know that you don't have to be a blood relative to have that title - all you have to be is a close friend of one's parents. Uncle Robert was just that. A very long time friend of our family. 53 years is a long time to be close to someone isn't it?

I looked up to him because when I was little, I didn't know that black people worked for NASA. He was a black pioneer at that agency. I mean, this guy struggled to get an education in the south and then fought for a rightful place to use that education in order to make a contribution to society. He was an engineer that worked on the Skylab project (remember that?) and rode the "vomit comet" when it was actually a test plane (before it was the cool $1000 ride for the public.)

In addition, he was a humble fellow - a southern gentleman. He will be missed.

Here's a copy of an article about who he was, and what his contributions to the American space program were. Click on the photo's for a larger copy. The reference is taken from "Blacks In Science" by Ivan Von Sertima.


rmains said...

In the mid-70s I participated in a joint NASA ARC/MSFC study at MSFC to determine how to conduct space life sciences research on the soon-to-be developed SpaceLab. Robert Shurney was the MSFC lead on the project and was a wonderful host to our California team. The backup Skylab unit (gigantic) was located behind our test area and Robert regaled us with stories of his development of the Skylab commode on the KC-135 zero-g test flight with multiple cameras focused on him as he was able to perform in the few seconds of weighlessness to test all systems. He was truly a gentleman, a great leader, and a testament to African-Americans who broke the color barriers in the South. I am pleased to read more about his accomplishments and am very pleased to have known him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Your web site is is a great gift. Even if I have never met you.
Glenn Shurney