Often times, when people talk about the Space Age, African-Americans are not part of the conversation. Given the fact that space exploration has been about people and machines, it would be weird if people from all walks of life weren’t considered in the drive.
One of the people who missing on people’s lips, but should be, is Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. As the first African-American in space, he was able to draw a considerable crowd eager to see him take to the sky on August 30, 1983.
Notably, long before he achieved the feat, Guion Bluford made a point of letting people know that becoming the first African American astronaut in space was not his sole motivation. The fact that he actually went on to achieve that and then some, just further adds some excitement to the narrative.
While what he accomplished quickly made its way into folklore, Bluford was well on his way to becoming one of the finest aerospace engineers of his time. Impressively, he picked up on a lot of things during his stint as with the Air Force. The numerous hours of flight time registered was greatly appreciated by the folks at NASA. They made a point of taking him to space 4 times. During his exploration, he gained plenty of experience working with complex systems.
Today, Guion Bluford has long retired from NASA and is currently pursuing his career in aerospace. As the saying goes, once a pilot, always a pilot.
Born on November 22, 1942, Guion Bluford was a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native. His parents were great people in that they encouraged all four of their sons to reach for the stars. Luckily, Guion Bluford took this literally and found himself space-bound years later.
In a way, his parents’ professions (his mother Lolita was a special education teacher, and his father, Guion Sr. was a mechanical engineer) were just the perfect launching pad for him to dream big.
His shyness did not endear him to his teachers and at one point a school counselor actually encouraged him to learn a trade or two. According to the counselor, there was no way that Guion Bluford was ever going to qualify for college.
While many African American men in his position would have taken heed to such advice, Guion Bluford would have none of it. He took the path less traveled and decided to trail blaze. By the time he graduated in 1960, he was ready to go and proceeded to seek excellence in college.
With a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the Pennsylvania State University by his side, he confidently strode into ROTC and attended flight school. After getting acquainted with the systems, he earned his wings in 1966.
Ever the serviceman, Guion Bluford made his way to Vietnam as part of the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron. During the war, he flew 144 combat missions in which 65 occurred over North Vietnamese lands. After he’d done his duty, he came back home as a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
Inspired to seek excellence, he went back to school and passed his Masters of Science Degree with distinction in aerospace engineering in 1974 at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He topped off his efforts with a doctor of philosophy in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1978.
Amassed with plenty of experience and knowledge, Guion Bluford was ready to conquer space. From a pool of 10,000 applicants, he and 34 others were shortlisted to join NASA’s training program in 1978.
After training, he officially became an astronaut in August 1979. Remarkably, he was enrolled in the same astronaut class as Ron McNair, another famous African American astronaut who passed away during the Challenger explosion, and Fred Gregory, who went ahead to have a successful NASA career rising to the rank of Deputy Administrator.
On August 30, 1983, history was made as Guion Bluford became the very first African American astronaut on a NASA shuttle mission. He made his way aboard the Challenger’s third flight and after 98 orbits, landed back on earth on September 5, 1983.
With his first mission named STS-8, he made 3 more shuttle missions during his careers; the STS 61-A, STS-39, and the STS-53. Given his experience and educational background, he was the trusted specialist charged with overseeing satellite deployment and lending his hand in various other spheres of flight travel.
Given just how significant a role he played in space exploration, he managed to get inducted in the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997. As a toast to his achievements, he made a cameo during the shooting of the music video for Men in Black, II.
During one of his interviews with NASA, Bluford shared that he believes that it was his pilot and engineering experience that put him in good books with the space agency. He opined that his color of skin was never a divisive issue. It’s quite remarkable he shared this despite the fact that once selected, there was a high chance he would become the first African American astronaut.
At AstroReality, we’re all about honoring greatness. They don’t come much bigger than Guion Bluford, a man of the stars.
You too can get involved in his legacy by looking at our planet Earth from an astronaut’s view through our NASA Space Mug. Get in touch with space in daily life by scanning the NASA Space Mug through our AstroReality Explorer app, and have a simulated spaceship experience. Share the same perspective with astronauts today.