#RespectYourElders: Guion Steward Bluford (born 1942) is an American aerospace engineer and retired NASA astronaut. He is known for being the first African-American in space and helping to reframe the conversation about space exploration after the tragic Challenger explosion in 1986.
Prior to his historic launch into space, Bluford earned his degree in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State University where he was part of the U.S. Air Force ROTC program. After graduation and intensive Air Force training, Bluford became a combat pilot in the Vietnam War. He flew nearly 150 combat missions, ultimately earning a number of medals for his service. He eventually went on to earn his master’s and PhD from the U.S. Air Force Institution of Technology and beat out thousands of applicants to become a NASA astronaut.
Even with his impressive resume, Bluford never expected he would be the first African-American in space. His aerospace engineering qualifications, however, put him at the top of his training class, leading to his joining the 1983 Challenger expedition. He flew into space again in 1985 and returned twice more after the 1986 Challenger disaster, determined to keep space exploration moving forward.
By the end of his career, Bluford spent 688 hours in space over the course of four separate missions. That first mission, however, still stands out for Bluford. Shortly after launch, Bluford recalls, “I laughed and giggled all the way up. It was such a fun ride.”
For more on space events that made history, take a look at this article.