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Immanuel Gitamo: Kenyan Who Became First Black In The US Military To Attain PhD In Astrophysics

The story of Immanuel Gitamo brings out the end-result of hardwork, resilience and most importantly-not allowing the past to define your future. He was born and raised in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County where he was abandoned by his biological parents. After his O-levels in 2006, he successfully applied and received a green card to pursue his education in the US where he also joined the army.

He became the first black man in the US military to attain a PhD in Astrophysics. Gitamo now works for SpaceX, a company owned by Elon Musk-the world’s richest man.

Here is his story as told by WoK.


Gitamo was abandoned by his parents when he was young.

“My brother and I were found abandoned by the roadside by our biological parents and therefore, I don’t know my real father and mother,” he told Army Journal.

They were adopted by a couple who raised them as their children. The adoptive parents did not have much and struggled to take care of them. He told the publication that he never wore shoes until when he turned 14 years old.

Education Journey

Luckily, the teachers in the local school understood the situation and he was allowed to attend classes without paying school fees. In return, he volunteered to help in doing various chores at the school. That’s how he was able to study from primary school through to high school.

After clearing his secondary school education in 2006, Gitamo received a green card to pursue tertiary education in the United States. He joined California Institute of Technology which is ranked among top five best universities in the world. He pursued a Bachelor of Science in aeronautics and astronautics engineering and later a Master of Science in nuclear physics.

Joining the Army

After completing his Masters, Dr. Gitamo opted to join the US Air Force reserves in order to receive military benefits that would help him pay for his PhD studies. Through the army, he was able obtain a VA home loan as well as garner the experience necessary for writing a dissertation on electric propellants.

In 2019, Gitamo completed a PhD in astrophysics and is now working on another PhD in atomic physics. He effectively became the first black man in the US army to attain a PhD in Astrophysics.

“I went through the normal application process and worked hard. Achieving a PhD wasn’t an easy task. It required discipline and consistency. After much prayer, I was given the green light, and here I am with a PhD in Astrophysics,” he explained.

Joining SpaceX

Gitamo went on to become part of Falcon 9 project – a two stage reusable rocket manufactured by SpaceX, a company owned by Elon Musk. The role of Falcon 9 is transporting astronauts beyond the earth orbit and is the first reusable rocket.

“My job was to verify all standard requirements are met. This is how I came to be part of the SpaceX project Falcon which has been launched 107 times with 67 landing and 50 times having reflown rockets. 2027 SpaceX is a complete mission which we are still planning. It is meant to go to Mars,” he told Nation.

It is through this project that Gitamo was able to meet and interact in person with the world’s richest man, Elon Musk who is the owner of SpaceX.


Currently, Gitamo is involved in mentoring young Kenyans in Seattle helping them choose careers wisely. He is also involved in charity activities with churches and schools in Kenya.

“I am also helping several students in Kenya with school fees but I have big plans coming up soon on how I will be giving back to the community,” he said.