Memorial Spaceflights

Aurora Flight Participant Spotlight: Clarice Terry Brown's Space Odyssey

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Before Celestis Memorial Spaceflights’ Aurora Flight lifts off on November 30th, we will showcase several flight participants, remember their lives, and celebrate their legacy. We are honored to feature the story of Clarice Terry Brown, written by her daughter.

By Carlotta M. Arthur (daughter)

My mom was always an adventurer and risk taker in her own way, always marching to her own drum, never following the crowd. She gained experience in life-changing journeys early on when, at about age 10, she moved north to Indianapolis with her parents and sister as part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the northern U.S. in search of greater opportunity. In mom’s case, the move was from rural Tennessee, where my grandfather had been a coal miner and then a sharecropper, and my grandmother was a domestic worker: Indianapolis must have seemed a universe away for the entire family.

Having made that transition successfully, I expect that for my mother, being introduced to astronomy as a student and living through the era of the “space race” was what sparked her interest. It must have seemed like anything was possible! But for a Black woman in that era, opportunities were actually quite limited. We are just now hearing the stories of Katherine Johnson and the other Black women – “hidden figures” – at NASA who made significant contributions to the nation’s spaceflight. I can’t help wondering how such stories may have motivated my mom to further pursue her interests. Instead, she settled for science fiction. Her favorite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey, and like many women, she found inspiration in the character Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. Mom settled on a more traditional career and her space dreams remained just dreams.

She never made it to space, but earthly travel was one of her true loves. She enjoyed going to new places, meeting new people, and learning about world cultures. She spent time touring across the United States from coast to coast, and journeying internationally, including to Victoria, Canada; Mexico City, Mexico; and Cape Town, South Africa. Indeed, a life-long learner, she liked nothing better than taking philosophy and real estate courses; engaging in cultural activities, such as attending concerts and visiting museums; and viewing nature and space documentaries and films. She also enjoyed decorating and maintaining an immaculate home – she got that from her mother. She was well-known as a fashionista, sewing and tailoring the latest styles for herself and her children – we were very fashionable kids! Mom was also an outstanding cook, famous for her cheesecake, pineapple coconut cake, bread pudding, three bean salad, tuna casserole, corn pudding, and salmon croquettes – her recipes are still being used and passed down. 

Mom’s love of science fiction and fascination with space was also passed down, to me, her middle daughter, in particular. I earned a Metallurgical Engineering degree from Purdue, the first African American woman to do so, then went on to a career in the industry where I had the opportunity to do contract work for NASA. Indeed, in my current position, at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, many career moves later, NASA is a sponsor of some of our work. Thanks in no small part to mom, my dream of becoming a rocket scientist actually came true in a small way. I dedicate my work in this area to her, and she remains an inspiration to me always.

My siblings, like my mom and me, followed their own “roads less traveled.” My older sister became the first in our family to go to university; my brother was a talented ceramicist and woodcrafter; and my youngest sister is a celebrated public artist in Washington State. I can think of no better tribute for our mom gave my siblings and me by simply daring to be herself, than to finally realize her dream of traveling “to the stars.” It will be an honor and a privilege to share stories and images of my mom’s Celestis flight with family and friends, and show them her space capsule. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire another generation of our family to reach for their own spaceflight dream and for the stars!

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