Did You Know The First Black Astronaut Went To Space On This Date In 1983?


Forty years ago, Guion “Guy” Stewart Bluford II became the first Black astronaut to go to space as “a crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger when it launched from Kennedy Space Station on its third mission.”

Of note, Bluford was a member of the groundbreaking class of 1978 astronauts. “Of the 35 spaceflyers selected, three were African-Americans, and six were women, including Sally Ride.” The other two Black astronauts were Fred Gregory and Ron McNair, and all three knew that one of them would become the first.

“My desire was to make a contribution to the program,” said Bluford in a statement from NASA, “People came from all over to watch this launch because I was flying,” continuing “I imagined them, all standing out there at one o’clock in the morning with their umbrellas, all asking the same question, ‘Why am I standing here?’”

Bluford added, “I probably told people that I would probably prefer not being in that role…because I figured being the No. 2 guy would probably be a lot more fun.”

But ultimately, Bluford said, “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.”

After this first mission, Bluford was a part of three other missions, and he would end up spending 688 total hours up in space.

A native Philadelphian, Bluford was born in 1942 and was obsessed with flying from an early age. After graduating from Penn State in 1964, where he majored in aerospace engineering, Bluford decided he needed “to know how to fly planes if he wanted to build them, [and] he entered the U.S. Air Force and graduated with his pilot wings” a year later.

Bluford flew 144 combat missions in Vietnam and subsequently became a flight instructor before going “on to receive a master’s degree and doctorate in aerospace engineering form the Air Force Institute of Technology.”

In 1979, the U.S. astronaut program accepted Bluford, and the rest was history. In remembering Bluford’s extensive contributions, Charles Bolden, a four-time veteran of space shuttle fights and the first Black administrator of the space agency, said “Guy was the first person of color to fly and that was absolutely incredible, but it.. would have been empty had he been the first and only.”

Aside from Bluford, there have been 18 other Black astronauts. And this number doesn’t include Ed Dwight, who was posthumously named “an honorary member of the U.S. Space Force” in 2020, and Major Robert H. Lawrence Jr., who had been selected to the program before he was killed in a pilot training mission at Edwards Air Force Base in California.


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