Guion "Guy" Bluford: First Black in space

Refused to listen to negative advice

Miami Times staff report | 9/5/2013, 9 a.m.
Guion "Guy" Bluford, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 22, 1942. His mother, Lolita was a special education ...
Guion "Guy" Bluford, Jr

Guion "Guy" Bluford, Jr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 22, 1942. His mother, Lolita was a special education teacher and his father, Guion Sr., was a mechanical engineer. His parents encouraged all four of their sons to work hard and set their goals high — Guy did just that.

Bluford attended Overbrook Senior High School in Philadelphia where a counselor encouraged him to learn a trade, since he was “not college material.” However, unlike other young Black men of his time who were told the same thing, Bluford ignored it. He earned his high school diploma in 1960 and went on to college where he excelled.

After receiving a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the Pennsylvania State University in 1964, Bluford enrolled in ROTC and attended flight school, earning his wings in 1966. His next stop would be Cam Ranh, Vietnam where he was assigned to the 557th Tactical Fighter Squadron and flew 144 combat missions — 65 over North Vietnam. Bluford later returned to school, earning a master of science degree with distinction in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1974, followed by a doctor of philosophy in aerospace engineering with a minor in laser physics from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1978.

Guion dreams of becoming an astronaut

That year, he learned he was one of 35 astronaut candidates selected from a field of over 10,000. Bluford entered the Astronaut Training Program and became an astronaut in August 1979.

His first mission was aboard the space shuttle Challenger, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 30, 1983. This was Challenger’s third flight but the first mission with a night launch and night landing. It also marked the occasion of the first Black astronaut. (The first Black man in outer space had been Cuban Col. Arnaldo Tamayo-Mendez on the Soviet mission Salyut 6 in 1980.) After 98 orbits of the earth, the Challenger landed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Sept. 5, 1983.

Bluford served on three more shuttle mission during his NASA career, also continuing his education by earning a masters in business administration from the University of Houston, Clear Lake, in 1987. He retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1993. He now serves as vice president and general manager of the Science and Engineering Group, Aerospace Sector of Federal Data Corporation in Maryland. He has received many medals, awards, and accolades and was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1997. He has spoken before many groups, especially young people, where he serves as a great role model.

Bluford and his wife, Linda Tull, were married in 1964 and have two children: Guion III and James.