On today’s date, August 30 in 1983, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guion S. Bluford became the first African American to take part in a mission to space when the space shuttle Challenger embarked on its third mission, STS 8. As this was the first night lift-off of a space shuttle, it blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:32 a.m.
Buford Studies and Flies Hard and Makes an Astronaut
Born in Philadelphia in 1942, Guion “Guy” Stewart Bluford II at an early age showed an interest in flight, and building airplanes. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in aerospace engineering. He joined the U.S. Air Force and got his pilot wings in 1965. He was assigned to a fighter squadron in Vietnam, where he flew 144 combat missions. Later, Guy received a master’s degree and doctorate in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. There were 10,000 applicants to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) space program, Guy Bluford wound up as one of 35 chosen to join the new space shuttle team in January 1978. And in August 1979 he officially became an astronaut with NASA.
Shuttle Mission STS 8
On mission STS-8 aboard the space shuttle Challenger, Bluford had the job of a specialist for mission. Bluford and and his crew mates (below) performed several biophysiological experiments, while successfully
operating a Canadian-built robot arm while Challenger orbited Earth 98 times over the course of 145 hours. On September 5, 1983, the mission concluded when Challenger landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. And just as she had left, Challenger returned in a night landing. (Pictured: Seated (L-R): Daniel C. Brandenstein, Pilot, Richard H. Truly, Commander, and Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Mission Specialist. Standing (L-R): Dale A. Gardner, Mission Specialist, and William E. Thornton, Mission Specialist.) Just as with her nocturnal departure, this night landing had been a first. Guion Buford went on to participate in a total four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992. After the tragic explosion of Challenger in 1986, Buford wanted to assure that space travel would continue so his last two missions were aboard the Shuttle Discovery. By the time of this final mission Buford had logged over 688 hours in space. Guion S. Buford retired from the Air Force in 1993, and has since worked with such companies as Northrop/Grumman.
How Guion Buford Felt About Being the First African American Astronaut?
Not surprisingly, when asked this, Guy Buford felt a high degree of responsibility, not only as an African American, but also as a scientist and a space aviator:
“I felt an awesome responsibility, and I took the responsibility very seriously, of being a role model and opening another door to black Americans, but the important thing is not that I am black, but that I did a good job as a scientist and an astronaut. There will be black astronauts flying in later missions … and they, too, will be people who excel, not simply who are black . . . who can ably represent their people, their communities, their country.”