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Astronaut Friday: Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr.

We’re back today with another Astronaut Friday post to celebrate the end of the week and an inspiring astronaut! Today’s featured space traveler is a veteran of four space flights, who served as mission specialist aboard STS-8, the first mission to launch (Aug. 30, 1983 at 2:32 am) and land (Sep. 5, 1983 at 12:40 am) in darkness, STS-61A, STS-39 and STS-53. Selected as a NASA astronaut back in 1979, he has logged a total of 688 hours in space over the course of his NASA career from 1983 to 1992.

Official portrait of the first African-American to fly into space, Guion Bluford.
Official portrait of the first African-American to fly into space, Guion Bluford.

His first mission earned him a spot in the history books as Guion “Guy” Bluford became the first African-American astronaut to fly in space. He made history again as he became the first African-American astronaut to venture back into space three more times. He has been inducted into both the International Space Hall of Fame and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Guion Bluford served our nation both on and off the ground (and even off the planet!), and today we honor him with some fun facts you might not have known about this inspirational astronaut.

1.) He was the first African-American to be awarded U.S. Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings

Before Bluford was selected to be a NASA astronaut, he served our country as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Bluford earned his pilot wings in 1966 and after combat training, served overseas during the Vietnam War, where he flew 144 combat missions. In his career as an Air Force pilot, Bluford logged over 5,200 hours of high-performance jet time, and even obtained an FAA commercial pilot license.

In 1983, Bluford made history as the first African-American to be awarded USAF Command Pilot Astronaut Wings. What a year!

2.) He didn’t necessarily want to be the first African-American in space…he wanted to be the “No. 2 guy”

There were two other African-Americans in Bluford’s astronaut class. One was Ron McNair, who would later tragically lose his life aboard Challenger. The other was Fred Gregory, who would later become NASA’s first African-American Deputy Administrator. But, of the three of them, Bluford was the astronaut selected to be the first African-American astronaut to fly in space.

Guion Bluford in orbit

According to, Bluford later told NASA, “All of us knew that one of us would 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.”

However, Bluford did manage to have some fun with his first space flight…he laughed the whole ride up! According to, when the crew of STS-8 returned home, they were surprised to find laughter on the launch audio. The “giggles” belonged to Bluford. What did the astronaut have to say about it?

“It was such a fun ride.”

3.) A herniated disc almost kept Guion from flying aboard his third shuttle mission

Believe it or not, astronauts get hurt too!

In fact, just months before the launch date of his third mission, STS-39, Bluford developed a herniated disc which threatened his chances of flying. states that the flight surgeons grounded him and insisted on operating to correct the problem. However, Bluford and his support teams worried that he would not recover quick enough to complete his training.

According to, commander Mike Coats, who was determined to have Bluford fly, shifted responsibilities among the crew to accommodate the injured astronaut, and on April 28, 1991, Bluford lifted off with STS-39 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He successfully completed the mission with no complications.

Now retired from NASA and the Air Force, Guion Bluford, Jr. serves as the President of the Aerospace Technology Group. Want to know more about Guion Bluford? Click here.

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