Guion Bluford is a former NASA astronaut and a retired colonel of the United States Air Force. He became the first African-American to go into space, when he participated as a crew member of Space Shuttle Challenger on NASA's STS-8 mission in 1983.
Guion was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 22, 1942. He was one of the four kids born to Guion Sr., a mechanical engineer, and Lolita, a special education teacher. He graduated from the Overbrook Senior High School in Philadelphia in 1960 and obtained a Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 1964. Later, the same year, he married Linda Tull. The couple has two sons: Guion III and James.
Air Force Career
After passing out from the Pennsylvania State University, Bluford got himself enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps and attended flight school at Williams Air Force Base. In 1966, he earned his pilot wings and went through the F-4C combat crew training in Arizona and Florida. After completion of his training, he was assigned to the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. He participated in 144 combat missions in his career, 65 of which were in North Vietnam.
He worked as a T-38A instructor pilot at the Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas for 5 years, before returning to pursue his education. He joined the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he completed his Masters in Aerospace Engineering in 1974 and Doctor of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering with minor in laser physics in 1978.
In 1978, Guion Bluford was shortlisted as one of the 35 astronauts in the NASA Group 8. He entered the Astronaut Training Program and became an astronaut in August 1979. He participated as a mission specialist in four missions, commissioned by NASA between 1983 and 1993. By the end of his fourth mission, Guion had logged 688 hours in space.
Mission 1: Bluford's first mission was STS-8 aboard Space Shuttle Challenger. It was Challenger's first mission with night launching and night landing. The shuttle was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on August 30, 1983. It landed at the Edwards Air Base, California, on September 5, 1983, after completing 98 orbits of the Earth in 145 hours.
Mission 2: His second mission was STS-61-A, which was again launched from the Kennedy Space Center on October 30, 1985. This was Bluford's second mission aboard Challenger. It was a German D-1 Space Lab mission with 8 crew members; the largest crew to go in space. It completed 111 orbits of the Earth in 169 hours and landed at the Edwards Air Base on November 6, 1985. In 1987, he earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Mission 3: STS-39 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery was Bluford's third NASA mission. It was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on April 28, 1991. It completed 134 orbits of the Earth in 199 hours before returning to the Kennedy Space Center on May 6, 1991.
Mission 4: Bluford embarked on his fourth mission, STS-53, on December 2, 1992, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. He was a part of the 5 member crew which was deployed to perform various Military-Man-in-Space and NASA experiments. After completing 115 orbits of the Earth and spending 175 hours in space, Discovery landed at the Edwards Air Base on December 9, 1992.
In 1993, Bluford opted for retirement from NASA to join the Engineering Services Division of NYMA, Inc., Maryland, as the general manager. He joined the Aerospace Sector of the Federal Data Corporation in 1997 and then the Northrop Grumman Corporation in 2000 working at the level of vice-president in both organizations. Finally in 2002, he became the president of the Aerospace Technology Group, an engineering consulting organization based in Cleveland.
Other than being the first black astronaut, Guion Bluford achieved many other laurels in his life. The icing on the cake came in 1997, when he was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame. Molefi Kete Asante, a contemporary American scholar, listed Bluford in his list of 100 Greatest African-Americans in 2002.