Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr., an American aerospace engineer, retired U.S. Air Force officerand fighter pilot, was the first African-American in space. Before becoming an astronaut, Bluford was an officer in the U.S. Air Force rising to the rank of Colonel. He participated in four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992. In 1983, as a member of the crew of the Orbiter Challenger on the mission STS-8. Bluford then became the first African American in space as well as the second person of African ancestry in space, after Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez.
Bluford was born November 22, 1942, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Overbrook High School in 1960. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 1964, a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology in 1974, a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Laser Physics, again from AFIT, in 1978, and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Houston–Clear Lake in 1987. He has also attended the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania.
Bluford was chosen to become a NASA astronaut in August 1979 out of thousands of possible candidates. His technical assignments have included working with Space Station operations, the Remote Manipulator System, Spacelab systems and experiments, Space Shuttle systems, payload safety issues and verifying flight software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and in the Flight Systems Laboratory.
Bluford’s first mission was STS-8, which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on August 30, 1983. This was the third flight for the Orbiter Challenger and the first mission with a night launch and night landing. During the mission, the STS-8 crew deployed the Indian National Satellite (INSAT-1B); operated the Canadian-built RMS with the Payload Flight Test Article (PFTA); operated the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) with live cell samples; conducted medical measurements to understand biophysiological effects of space flight; and activated four “Getaway Special” canisters. STS-8 completed 98 orbits of the Earth in 145 hours before landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on September 5, 1983.
Bluford was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997, and inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010.
In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Bluford on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.In 2006, Bluford was recognized as a distinguished alumnus of Penn State by being selected as the Grand Marshal for his alma mater’s Homecoming celebration.