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Inspiring StoriesGuion Bluford: The First African American To Travel In Space

Guion Bluford: The First African American To Travel In Space

When Guion Bluford launched into low Earth orbit on the Space Shuttle Challenger on August 30, 1983, he made history as the first African American in space. In the years that followed, he embarked on three more shuttle flights, spending a total of 688 hours in space.

I wanted to set the standard, do the best job possible so that other people would be comfortable with African-Americans flying in space and African-Americans would be proud of being participants in the space program and encourage others to do the same. – Guion Bluford

On November 22, 1942, Guion Stewart Bluford Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At Pennsylvania State University, Bluford majored in aeronautical engineering and received his degree there in 1964. He participated in the Vietnam War as a distinguished member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps before enlisting in the Air Force. In addition to other honours, he flew more than 140 combat missions and was awarded the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

Bluford enrolled at the Air Force Institute of Technology during the war, where he graduated with a master’s in aeronautical engineering in 1974. In 1978, the same year he was chosen for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space program, he went on to get a Ph.D. in the same field.


On August 30, 1983, Guion Bluford made history by becoming the first African American to fly into space. Bluford served as a mission specialist on the nighttime launch of the space shuttle Challenger from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. This was the first night launch for the space shuttle. The mission, which included 98 Earth orbits in 145 hours, came to an end on September 5, 1983, when the spacecraft touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in California at night—another first for the Challenger. During this time, he carried out a number of experiments.


Later on, Bluford joined the crews of three other space missions. In October 1985, he boarded Challenger once more for a mission that included 111 Earth orbits in 169 hours and ended the following month when Challenger returned to Edwards Air Force Base. On the orbiter Discovery, he completed his final two missions, which took place in 1991 and 1992, respectively.

After spending 688 hours in space throughout his career, Bluford retired in 1993. In 1997, he was admitted to the International Space Hall of Fame.

Guion S. Bluford has spent the majority of his career working for private companies since leaving NASA and the U.S. Air Force. He has spent the previous several years employed by a number of businesses, including Federal Data Corporation and Northrop Grumman, in their aerospace divisions. He is currently the Aerospace Technology Group’s president.

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