November 22, 1942: Guy Bluford, the First African American in Space Was Born

0 Posted by - November 22, 2021 - Birthdays, On This Date, Today In Black History

By Victor Trammell

Photo credits: NASA

On August 30, 1983, hundreds flocked to see the launch of America’s first African-American astronaut into orbit.

Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. often said that he did not join NASA just to achieve the distinction of becoming the first Black man to journey into space, but it was undoubtedly a part of his story. While this achievement was noteworthy on a personal and social level, Bluford’s ultimate ambition was to become the best aeronautical engineer possible. He logged several flight hours while serving in the Air Force, and his subsequent stint at NASA sent him to space four times, where he worked with complex technology on each trip. Bluford eventually quit in order to pursue a career in aerospace, which he is still doing now.

Years of Formative Experience

Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 22, 1942. His mother, Lolita, was a special education teacher, and his father, Guion Sr., was a mechanical engineer. The Blufords urged their four sons to work diligently and set great goals.

Guion Bluford’s Education

Guion graduated from Overbrook Senior High School in Philadelphia. Throughout his upbringing, he was labeled as “shy.” While he was there, a school counselor recommended he pursue a trade since he was deemed unfit for college. In contrast to other young African-American males of his day, Guy rejected similar advice and pursued his own path. He earned his high school diploma in 1960 and maintained his academic prowess in college.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1964. He joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and enrolled in flying school. He earned his wings in 1966. Guion Bluford was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, with the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He flew 144 combat flights, 65 over North Vietnam. Guy worked as a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas for five years after his service.

Guion Bluford returned to school in 1974 and earned a master of science in aerospace engineering with honors from the Air Force Institute of Technology. In 1978, he earned a doctor of philosophy in aerospace engineering with a minor in laser physics from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Guion Bluford’s Aspiration to Become an Astronaut

He learned that year that he had been selected as the 35th astronaut candidate from a pool of over 10,000 applicants. In August 1979, he entered NASA’s astronaut training program and was chosen as an astronaut. He was a classmate of Ron McNair, the African-American astronaut who died in the Challenger accident, and Fred Gregory, a NASA Deputy Administrator who eventually became NASA Administrator.

Guy’s first mission was STS-8, which launched aboard the space shuttle Challenger from the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 30, 1983. Although this was the third flight of the Challenger, it was the first with a night launch and landing. Additionally, it was the program’s eighth excursion, demonstrating that the initiative was still in its infancy. Guy made history as the country’s first African-American astronaut on the mission. After 98 orbits, the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Sept. 5, 1983.

Col. Bluford served on three further shuttle missions during his time at NASA: STS 61-A (again on the Challenger, just months before its terrible tragedy), STS-39 (aboard Discovery), and STS-53 (also aboard Discovery). He served mostly as a mission specialist on space missions, aiding with satellite deployment, scientific and secret military experiments and payloads, as well as other flight duties.

Guy finished his schooling during his tenure at NASA, earning a master’s degree in business administration in 1987 from the University of Houston, Clear Lake. Bluford retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1993. He is now vice president and general manager of the Science and Engineering Group, Aerospace Sector, of Federal Data Corporation in Maryland. Bluford has received several awards, honors, and distinctions, and in 1997 was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame.

Later Achievements

In 2010, as a notable alumnus of Penn State University, he was admitted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame (in Florida). He has spoken to a variety of groups, most notably young people, acting as an outstanding role model for young men and women interested in careers in aerospace, science, and technology. Bluford has said on several occasions that he felt a tremendous sense of obligation during his Air Force and NASA career to serve as an important role model, especially for fellow African-American youths.

On the plus side, Guy Bluford had a cameo appearance as part of a music track in Men in Black II.

Guy married Linda Tull in 1964. Their descendants include Guion III and James (Greene, 2020).

Reference: Greene, Nick. (2020, December 30). The Life of Guion “Guy” Bluford: NASA Astronaut. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/guion-bluford-3071169

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