August 31, 2013
Guy Bluford Celebrates 30th Anniversary As First African-American In Space
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
When Guy Bluford, now 70, was first accepted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1978, he never dreamed of becoming the first African-American to go to space. He said his only desire “was to make a contribution to the program.”Now, 30 years after making a ground-breaking historic flight as part of NASA’s STS-8 mission, Bluford recalls the rain-soaked, early Friday morning of August 30, 1983, when he was strapped in his seat waiting for lift off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, while a crowd of VIPs gathered to witness the launch.
"People came from all over to watch this launch because I was flying," said Bluford. "I imagined them, all standing out there at one o'clock in the morning with their umbrellas, all asking the same question, 'Why am I standing here?'"
Bluford was one of three African-Americans that were accepted by NASA. The others were former NASA Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory and astronaut Ron McNair, who died during the launch of STS-51-L aboard Challenger on January 28, 1986.
Bluford said he believes he was selected for the history-making STS-8 mission because of his experience as a pilot and engineer.
"All of us knew that one of us would eventually step into that role...I probably told people that I would probably prefer not being in that role...because I figured being the No. 2 guy would probably be a lot more fun."
Although, Bluford maintained he did in fact have plenty of fun being part of STS-8, which launched with four other crew members, completing a successful seven-day mission and returning to Earth on September 5, 1986.
"The crew taped the intercom conversation," says Bluford of Challenger's liftoff, an experience they replayed upon their safe return to Earth. "There's somebody giggling and laughing all the way up. And we listened to it for quite a while to try and figure out who that was, only to come to the conclusion that it was me. I mean, I laughed and giggled all the way up. It was such a fun ride."
Bluford said it took him a long time to realize the historical significance of his selection to be the first African-American in space. But once he made the connection, he said he embraced it.
"I wanted to set the standard, do the best job possible so that other people would be comfortable with African-Americans flying in space and African-Americans would be proud of being participants in the space program and… encourage others to do the same."
After completing the historic STS-8 mission, Bluford would return to space aboard three subsequent Space Shuttle missions, with STS-53, launching on December 2, 1992, becoming his final ride into orbit.
Bluford retired from NASA in 1993 and returned to his roots as an experienced engineer, landing a role as Vice President/General Manager of Engineering Services at NYMA in Greenbelt, Maryland. He later took on several other positions for high profile companies before eventually becoming President of Aerospace Technology in 2002.