On a rainy summer day in 1983, Guion “Guy” Bluford soared towards the stars on NASA’s Challenger. He let out a chuckle—something he did not realize until his crew reviewed the audiotape from the launch—while breaking sound and social barriers as the first African American to travel to space.
“I mean, I laughed and giggled all the way up. It was such a fun ride,” said Bluford, according to NASA’s website.
Bluford’s voyage came two months after Sally Ride’s Challenger mission—as the first American woman to travel to space—and five years before Mae Jemison’s Endeavour mission—as the first Black woman to travel to space.
Though Bluford was the first Black American to enjoy the thrill of zero gravity, the first Black person to reach the stars was Afro-Cuban Astronaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez in a Russian shuttle in 1980.
Nonetheless, Bluford set a milestone that remains crucial to the history of aerospace exploration.
Born in 1942, Bluford dreamed of becoming an aerospace engineer as a child in Pennsylvania.
His high school guidance counselor told Bluford that he was not college material. Soon enough, he was decorated with diplomas.
Among his academic accolades, Bluford earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a Master of Science degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
He served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, where he flew over 140 combat missions.
Bluford was selected for the astronaut program along with two other Black classmates, Fred Gregory and the late Ron McNair.
Ultimately, Bluford was selected for the eighth Challenger mission, during which he conducted experiments that logged the effects of space on crew members.
Throughout his time as an astronaut, Bluford completed four missions in total—two on the Challenger and two on the Discovery. He spent nearly 700 hours in space before retiring his NASA spacesuit.
His post-NASA career flourished as founder of The Aerospace Technology Group and holder of high-ranking positions at several corporations in the aerospace and engineering fields.
No matter his age, Bluford still imagines the view from the space shuttle.
“When you look down at the Earth, you can see landmasses and it looks like a national geographic map. But you don’t see borders,” said Bluford in an interview with WPSU-TV Host Patty Satalia. “So, you recognize that this a very small planet and we all have to live on it together. We all have to take care of it together.”