For millennia, humans have stood on our planet and gazed up at the stars; very few have had the unique perspective of traveling towards the stars and looking back down at Earth from above. This month’s featured scientist, Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr., has a special appreciation for our beautiful planet since he has logged 688 hours looking at it from space! A trained pilot and aerospace engineer, Guy was the first African American in space and has been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame, the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, and has been noted by scholars as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans.
“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.”
—Guy Bluford on his pioneering role as the first African-American in space
Guy Bluford was born Nov 22, 1942 in Philadelphia, PA. Before becoming an astronaut, he attended Pennsylvania State University and graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1964. He went through pilot training with the U.S. Air Force and flew in combat missions during the Vietnam War before becoming an instructor pilot and eventually rising to the rank of Colonel. During this time, he chose to further his education through the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and attained a Master’s degree and a PhD in aerospace engineering. Guy’s unique abilities as a trained scientist and experienced pilot made him an attractive candidate for NASA’s astronaut program, and he was recruited in 1979.
During his first mission, the crew recorded intercom conversation and Guy Bluford could be heard “giggling and laughing all the way up” and the sheer excitement of going to space.
During his time with the NASA astronaut program, Guy 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, he became the first African American in space! The crew aboard this flight were tasked with deploying the Indian National Satellite (INSAT-1B) and conducted a number of experiments including medical measurements to understand the effects of space flight on the human body. STS-8 completed 98 orbits of the Earth in 145 hours, and Bluford continued on to complete 3 other missions that included similar satellite launches and experiments on fluid physics, life sciences, and navigation.